How historically accurate was Black Panther 2’s portrayal of Namor and the Talokan people?
Today’s post appears to be quite niche and definitely very nerdy. But, hopefully, by the end of it, you will have been converted to the magical world of Marvel lore tinged with history.
Personally, I am a huge fan of the Black Panther movies, for the obvious reasons of positive black representation and the regular appearances of my alleged twin- Leticia Wright (don’t look too closely at my picture it was just a bad angle!). But seriously, I enjoy and wholeheartedly support the Black Panther project. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the sequel did not falter in its self-imposed duty to tackle the heavy theme of colonisation, on this occasion, addressing the colonisation of the Americas by Spain which this piece will touch on.
One of my papers at the end of first year was on the topic of the Conquest and Colonisation of the New World by Spain in the 1500s. This paper essentially focused on the early creation of Latin America by Spanish conquistadors (colonisers/conquerors). If this movie had been released two years ago, I
would not have had the same reaction to the introduction of the early modern Americas into the New World. It was another way Black Panther 2 felt special for me; I was able to see hours of studying primary and secondary sources and lectures quite literally come alive in one of my interests.
With this piece, I intend to leave you more informed on the origins and influences of Black Panther 2’s portrayal of Namor and the Talokan people. As well as providing some insight into the Spanish conquest of Yucatán.
Namor is one of Marvel's oldest characters, with his existence in the comments dating back to 1939. In the Marvel comics Namor is a mutant, by virtue of being the son of a human sea captain, Leonard McKenzie, and Princess Fen of the mythical undersea kingdom of Atlantis. Subsequently, in the comics, Namor has an Atlantean heritage instead of an indigenous one and his people are Atlanteans instead of the Talokan. However, as clearly demonstrated in the movie adaptation, this had changed and the producer, Nate Moor, stated that this was a creative decision from the director Ryan Coogler who wanted to delve deeper into the topic of colonisation.
The Talokan were inspired by the Mayan people, a Native American tribe that belonged to the Yucatec peninsula. In the movie, the ancestors of the Talokan were described as being indigenous to the peninsula, but they found refuge in the underwater kingdom after having its population decimated by smallpox the Spanish conquistadors carried. Furthermore, Coogler stayed true to revisiting Yucatec Mayan culture by merging Namor and K’uk’ulkan.
The feathered serpent God in Yucatec Mayan culture was called K’uk’ulkan, it literally translated to feathered (k'u k'ul) and serpent (kan). Namor firstly introduced himself as K’uk’ulkan and went on to say only his enemies refer to him as Namor. The idea of a feathered serpent God appeared amongst other native groups across the Americas such as in Toltec and Aztec culture in Mexico.
The next question that arises is how similar the movie depiction of the conquistadors was to the actual conquest of Yucatán. The movie does not touch on the early presence of the Spanish in Yucatán; there were two exploratory expeditions between 1517 to 1518. The main conquest period was 1527 to 1529 under the lead of Francisco de Montejo who was chosen by the Spanish Crown to conquer and settle in Yucatán. Like all colonial ventures, it was motivated by financial gain. The Spanish Franciscan friar, Diego de Landa, in his Account of the Affairs of Yucatán, spoke of how the conquistadors in the early expeditions ‘discovered it [Yucatán] to be a rich land’.
The symbols of Spanish colonisation I identified in the movie were the spread of smallpox and the existence of the encomienda system (farms that were previously owned by Mayans or other indigenous groups that were taken over and controlled by the Spanish conquistadors). As Namor says in the movie, his mother and her village ‘were driven from their maize farms by Spanish conquistadors who brought the smallpox’. This was not imagination on Coogler’s behalf, native contraction of European diseases was a serious problem for indigenous people in Mesoamerica. For ten millennia, the Americas had been isolated from the rest of the world and thus lacked immunity to common diseases in Europe such as smallpox, measles and influenza which the Spaniards carried with them. As a result indigenous populations across Mesoamerica were annihilated by these diseases, and the Mayans were not an exception.
The second motif was the encomienda. When Namor returns to the ‘surface’, he and his people see Mayan people being enslaved and forced to work on what appears to be a plantation. This was a reference to the encomienda system. The owner of an encomienda was called an encomendero. These were instituted throughout the Americas and had subtle differences to the plantation system. One of the differences, for example, was that encomenderos did not necessarily live on the encomienda as plantation owners lived on their plantation. Encomenderos could have their homes in urban areas and own an encomienda in the countryside. But, abuses of the native populations, as the movie illustrated, did occur on the encomiendas. Even the Spanish Crown was aware of how rife it was; Diego de Valverde was sent by the Crown to the Yucatán peninsula to investigate abuses committed by encomenderos.
In summary, the main points to remember are that:
Black Panther 2 changed Namor and the Talokan to have an indigenous background instead of a mythical Atlantean heritage
The Talokan were inspired by the Yucatec Mayans
Black Panther 2 refers to the Spanish conquest of Yucatán with its inclusion of the spread of smallpox by the conquistadors and the encomienda system
If this has piqued your interest and you would like to find out more, the following websites are very helpful. Marvel cinematic universe, the Collider magazine’s article on Black Panther 2, Marvel Fandom and lastly, the World History’s article on K’uk’ulkan.
 D. de Landa, Account of the Affairs of Yucatán, pg 50, trans. and ed. A. Pagden in, The Maya. Diego de Landa’s Account of the Affairs of Yucatán. (1975)
 L.B. Simpson, The Encomienda in New Spain, pg 154, (1950).