Written by R. Alan Brooks
Hey, so listen: for the fifteen of y’all in the world who haven’t seen the Black Panther movie yet, you should just roll on, because this article has spoilers. That’s your warning. Fall back, now.
Black Panther is an audacious movie that takes viewers on multiple adventures, while blazing new trails in silver screen depictions of Africans, women, and frankly, superheroes.
One of the shining stars of the film is its villain, Erik Killmonger. Michael B. Jordan’s capacity for bringing complex and charismatic humanity to this character’s struggle is compelling. (And if you don’t think I used enough “c” words in that last sentence, I concur).
Killmonger is a great villain, because he’s a well-written antagonist that we can empathize with. As a testament to the strength of the film’s storytelling, Killmonger makes some valid and relatable points, we understand his pain, and we know why he came to be the person that he is. This is to writer and director Ryan Coogler’s credit as much as it is to Michael B. Jordan’s. Honestly, they should both be proud of this accomplishment.
But some of y’all are trying to hold Killmonger out as a hero, like he’s some admirable beacon of The Revolution; some example that we should follow. Sure, in some ways, he was more likable than Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa. He was more devilishly charming, he had more passion, and he had credible reasons to be so angry.
But damn, y’all, just because he said some true things, that doesn’t make him the one for you to follow. (And MAN, he said some true things. That last line of his? That was everything.)
But let’s look at this brother’s actions. I’m just gonna pick three disturbing things that he did.
He murdered his girlfriend, who was loyally helping him on his mission. We don’t learn how long they’d been together, but it was definitely serious enough between them for her to risk her life and break the law to help him accomplish his objective. But as soon as she wasn’t useful to him, Killmonger murdered her. That’s your hero? You must be part of that, “I’m still riding with Magneto even though he abandoned Mystique as soon as she lost her powers” camp. Boo!
He choked an old woman in Wakanda for not obeying him quickly enough. He choked a defenseless old woman. He choked her. Y’all want this dude around your aunties? You’re probably waiting for the Wakanda edition of Logan’s Run, then. Double Boo!
He burned all of the heart-shaped herbs, so no one else could be king after him. Ok, so his mission was to bring some liberation to all of the world’s oppressed African people. Good. But why burn the herbs? So no one else could ever have the power of the Black Panther? More likely, it’s so no one could ever challenge him. Does that sound like a liberator or a dictator?
I know some of y’all want to argue that leaders don’t have to be perfect. After all, MLK was known for infidelity, Jesse Jackson jealously announced he wanted to “cut off” Obama’s nuts, and well, I won’t even speak on Bill Cosby.
So we’re left with this fictional character who is reacting to very real cruelties, like oppression, slavery, murder, and rape - specific, inhumane crimes that people of African descent have endured for centuries.
But, to take it a step further; to look at this character, and to see him as a hero - a champion worthy to right these wrongs - that’s just out of hand.
Killmonger treats women’s lives as worthless. He has no love or respect for the elders around him. And he wants to destroy the possibility of a kingdom existing after him.
These things make sense to his character. It’s part of what makes him a great villain. As a viewer, I absolutely understand why he does them.
But it doesn’t make sense for you to aspire to them.
Y’all might need to rethink yourselves.
R. Alan Brooks is a writer, musician and host of the popular “Mother F**ker In A Cape” comics podcast, which interviews marginalized members of the geek world. Alan writes educational children’s comics and “The Adventures of Captain Colorado” for Pop Culture Classroom (the non-profit that stages Denver Comic Con). He is the writer and creator of “The Burning Metronome”, a supernatural murder mystery graphic novel.