But what about emerging pop-culture references—like the fictional nation of Wakanda, the expression of solidarity (especially black solidarity) “Wakanda forever,” and the powerful fake metal vibranium? For copyeditors, there’s a fine line between overexplaining and underexplaining when it comes to new pop-culture sensations. And since terms from Marvel Universe’s Black Panther have been particularly embraced by the black community, they should be treated with extra sensitivity.
While King T’Challa, also known as the Black Panther, is new to mainstream audiences, the character and his home have been around since Fantastic Four #52, published in 1966 (a few months before the Black Panther Party was founded). Until recently, Wakanda and its terminology were mostly known only to the subculture of comic-book fans and the smaller subculture of black comic-book fans. But these obscure references have gone mainstream in 2018, as the movie’s blockbuster success brought with it numerous online references to Wakanda as an Afrofuturist paradise and vibranium as an all-purpose power source: for example, a recent Forward article is titled “Judaism is My Wakanda,” while Elon Musk’s ultra-high-tech transportation company Hyperloop recently named its newly invented sensor-embedded carbon fiber “Vibranium.”
Fans will revel in these comparisons, but non-fans might well be baffled—for now. For the near future, it’s best to explain all Wakanda-centric terms to general audiences. When writing for predominantly black and/or geeky audiences, such explanations may be less necessary; indeed, too much explanation could be considered patronizing. Eventually, Wakanda and vibranium may become as well known as Asgard and kryptonite, requiring no explanation.