The Power of Toussaint in Black Panther Wakanda Forever

Spoiler warning: Please don’t read this if you don’t want any spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, especially about “Toussaint.” Okay? Here we go.

When Shuri meets her new nephew in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, she’s delighted to learn his name is Toussaint — a name, she notes, that has great resonance.

She doesn’t need to explain why, because the filmmakers know that some people will get it right away, and others will Google. (If you’re in the latter group, and just watched the film’s streaming debut on Disney+… hello!)

Who Was Toussaint?

Toussaint is an especially excellent name for a young child raised in Haiti, because François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture was a Haitian general who helped transform the revolution of Haiti’s enslaved people into a full-fledged rebellion against their French colonizers.

Haiti remains, to this day, the only country in the world born of a successful uprising of formerly enslaved people.

As Mauritanian-born historian Sudhir Hazareesingh details in his acclaimed 2020 biography Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture, the man born François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture was the grandson of a captured African chieftain. He grew up to become particularly well-versed in the works of revolutionaries from Machiavelli to Rousseau.

(And yet still Thomas Jefferson, a revolutionary himself, once dismissed Louverture as a “cannibal.”)

A former envoy of the French military commander-turned-emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Louverture declared himself in 1801 to be the governor for life of Saint-Domingue — soon to be renamed Haiti.

He combined Caribbean, African and European approaches to unite his allies and divide his opponents, leading the way toward Haiti’s independence.

Though he died of pneumonia at age 59, in 1803, his successor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, carried on the fight and defeated Napoleon’s forces the next year. In 1804, Haiti became independent.

It was the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean, the second republic in the Americas, and the first country in the Americas to abolish slavery.

It makes perfect thematic sense for the Wakandan diaspora to expand to Haiti in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — and for the late King T’Challa’s son to take the name of a man  who set enslaved people free.

At the end of the first Black Panther, King T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) vowed to tear down walls and stand with oppressed people all over the world, abandoning Wakanda’s longstanding policy of isolationism.

Of course, the boy explains in Wakanda Forever, Toussaint is only his Haitian name — his real name is T’Challa.

The Black Panther films rarely spell out their historical references, but they’re unmistakable — from the nod to the real-life Black Panther Party in Oakland at the start of the first Black Panther, to Wakandans hilariously addressing Martin Freeman’s CIA agent, Everett Ross, as “colonizer.”

Ulysses Klaue, of course, is a symbol of colonizers who try to plunder African nations of their resources, and vibranium is a symbol of those resources.

The discovery in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever that vibranium belongs not just to Wakanda, but also to the underwater kingdom of Talokan, also feels richly symbolic.

It’s seems like an inescapably obvious reference to European exploitation not only of African nations, but Indigenous American ones: The Talokans, of course, are stand-ins for the Mayans.

But the reference to Toussaint is one of the most overt historical references in any Marvel film. Hazareesingh calls him “the first Black superhero of the modern age,” and he has one great power that T’Challa does not:

While both men’s stories are symbolically powerful, Toussaint’s is also historic fact.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now streaming on Disney+.

Main image: the core cast of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.