You can’t be much of an Avengers fan without knowing who the Black Panther is and you can’t be much of a Black Panther fan without knowing who Griot is. The 2018 cinematic release of Black Panther was not only entertainment, it was a cultural and political event.
A Quick Overview of Griot Black Panther
Griot is the most powerful AI in the fictional nation of Wakanda and makes its first appearance in the 2018 film, Black Panther. The AI’s voice is portrayed by comedian Trevor Noah of The Daily Show.
Griot is actually in the unusual position of being part of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) but not part of the Marvel Universe. This means that to date, there have been no Griot appearances in Marvel Comics. So far, Black Panther has been Griot’s only appearance in the MCU series but Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is coming out in November of this year, so Griot may be back.
Griot’s Role In Black Panther
In the film, Griot only appeared in one scene, the dogfight/chase scene. At the film’s climax, Wakanda was experiencing a civil war between two rival claimants to the throne of Wakanda: current Black Panther T’Challa and his cousin Killmonger. When Killmonger sent Dragon Flyers, Wakandan fighter jets, to send vibranium weapons to major cities around the world in order to start a race war, Griot saved the day.
Through the use of kimoyo beads as an interface, “he” guided CIA agent/USAF fighter pilot and Wakanda ally Everett Ross. Within seconds, Griot instructed Ross on how to use a VR chamber to pilot a Royal Talon fighter jet. The flight controls were all holograms, redesigned to mimic an American fighter jet and no visor was needed. With Griot’s guidance, Ross was able to shoot down all enemy Dragon Flyers before they could leave Wakanda.
Griot and Suri
Griot is Suri’s creation. Suri is T’Challa’s sister but she is more than that. She is to the Black Panther what Q is to James Bond. She updates his suit and weapons. She is also responsible for saving the damaged hero/villain and friend of Captain America, Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier. Many have compared Griot to Tony Stark’s Ultron but I think Stark’s J.AR.V.I.S. would be a better comparison.
Griot and Everett Ross (aka Griot and the CIA)
Colonialism is a theme in Black Panther. Both in the film and in the comic books. The actual conflict between Black Panther and Killmonger is centered around the post-colonialism question. Is it better to see the West as an enemy to be manipulated and fought as Killmonger would suggest, or is it better to find another way as T’Challa chooses?
You can’t really go deep into the Black Panther series without getting political. Black Panther and Killmonger are family and yet they must fight each other over their opposing views on how to deal with the white world.
Klaue exists as the archetypal, racist villain. On the surface, he’s just a high-tech thief but there is a deeper, uglier layer. It’s no accident that he’s Belgian and it’s ironic that he’s an amputee. The Belgians in the Congo were known for chopping off the hands of any slaves that were not subservient enough. Despite being a partner to Killmonger, it was Klaue’s contemptuous attitude towards the Wakandas that led to the Belgian’s death at Killmonger’s hands.
Klaue is a relic from another era and is an easy enough problem to solve.
Everett Ross, on the other hand, is a much more complicated problem to solve and, as the King of Wakanda, it’s T’Challa’s job to solve it. Not only is Ross white, but he is a CIA agent and the very symbol of the American government.
When Ross wakes up in Wakanda, Shuri jokingly calls him a colonizer and admonishes him to be more polite. The 2018 audience, however, knows that Shuri is only partially joking.
Everett’s response is to introduce himself and say his name. It’s his way of saying, “Hey, look! I’m a person, not a government.”
Wakanda has hidden itself from the outside world for a reason. Look what America did when it acquired the atomic bomb. Imagine what it would do with Wakandan technology and vibranium?
So, what should King T’Challa do with the non-evil white people like Ross who have no understanding of Wakanda?
This is the type of problem that can’t simply be solved with superpowers. This problem requires wisdom. Luckily for Wakanda, the Black Panther is not just a superhero, but a king. King T’Challa, the current Black Panther, comes from a long line of kings and has been groomed for both kingship and superhero-ship by his father King T’Chaka.
He decides to solve the Ross problem and the Western world problem with one stroke. He chooses to reveal Wakanda fully to the Western world, starting with Ross. When Wakanda is at the climax of its civil war, T’Challa uses Ross to help fight that war. Because Ross is an outsider, he needs a guide and that guide is Griot. Griot’s scene in the film may be a small one but “his” significance is in no way small.
Griot IRL (In Real Life)
In West African tribal culture, a griot is a storyteller and musician, basically, a troubadour. Traditionally, a griot was among the eldest men of his tribe. The griots of West Africa are the manifestation of Carl Jung’s Magician archetype in all its fullness; they are the initiators.
Just as elder men, the griots, guide the younger men through the complex puzzles of the human condition in traditional African culture, so the AI Griot guides Ross, a well-meaning outsider, through the mysteries of Wakanda in order to avoid an unnecessary conflict with the West. The Black Panther series, in the MCU, is actually a good commentary on a solution to the post-colonialism problem, guidance through traditions older than the West.
Trevor Noah on Playing Griot
Comedian and TV host Trevor Noah did an interview with Vanity Fair about the experience. Noah stated that he would have “played a tree” to participate in Black Panther. Originally from South Africa, the comedian/talk show host can trace his lineage to the Zulu tribe.
In the film, the native language of the Wakandans is Xhosa, and the film’s lead Chadwick Boseman cultivated a South African accent specifically for the character of King T’Challa the Black Panther. When he was a boy, Noah had learned to speak Xhosa from his mother and in Vanity Fair he recounts what an emotional experience it was for him to hear the film’s characters speaking in authentic Xhosa.
Trevor Noah does not appear in the credits for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, but he was also uncredited in the 2018 theatrical release of Black Panther. He was eventually, however, credited in the home video release of Black Panther, so who knows?
Sometimes a comic book is more than a comic book.
When Black Panther opened in cinemas worldwide, I was actually in Ukraine at the time. It was 2018 and even though the full-scale invasion from Russia hadn’t actually happened yet, the Hybrid War had been in progress for a full four years.
Regardless, that cinema in Kyiv was filled with Ukrainians and at least one American, me. It was a historical moment and I was not going to miss it, Putin or no Putin.
Why was it a historical moment?
Wakanda! That’s why!
Like Plato’s Republic, Wakanda is a place that only exists in our minds.
It is an ideal to aspire to in order to create a reality that has not yet happened.
It is a nation that has never happened but someday may happen, a sub-Saharan, predominantly black, African nation that has never been conquered and is a leader in technology and military-political might.
Why is this ideal that we know to be fiction so essential?
Dignity. That’s why?
Imagine the humiliation of a country that has had to suffer being colonized, conquered, and subjected to slavery. More than a country, imagine half a continent, sub-Saharan Africa.
Now imagine the humiliation of having to go to your former colonizers, conquerors, and slave masters and ask for help.
Imagine what happens when lending agencies like the World Bank and IMF (International Monetary Fund) tell African countries exactly how to spend the money. I’m not saying that placing requirements on money lent is a bad thing. I’m saying that the humiliation is real. The need for dignity is real.
Now, it’s needed more than ever.
Chadwick Boseman, the actor who gave us our Black Panther, is dead. The Hybrid War has transformed into a full-scale invasion of a sovereign nation and tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians are dead. An ominous winter with soaring energy costs to say nothing of the specter of a nuclear holocaust is hanging over all our heads.
And yet, our hero, our Black Panther, is dead.
And yet, heroes don’t come from accepting our reality. They come from defying reality by creating a new reality, first in the mind, and then in action.
The Black Panther and Wakanda story created that new reality in our minds. Like the original griots from Africa, the Griot of Black Panther is a great storyteller and helped tell a very important story.