“Black Panther” was a monumental film. The film broke numerous records and marked a defining moment in cinematic history. The story following the rise of Wakandan Prince T’Challa, played by the late Chadwick Boseman, was full of complex character development. Arguably the character audiences resonated with the most, besides T’Challa, was the film’s antagonist, Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. Personally, I was not that enamored with Jordan’s performance as Killmonger. Nonetheless, I commend him for even attempting to bring such a character to life. Jordan, a comic book enthusiast himself, ensured to immerse himself in the material.
It was probably such heavy research that led Jordan to argue that Killmonger is not the villain many make him out to be, as he told Bleacher Report recently. You can check out his comments here. Many fans voiced their disagreements with Jordan’s statements. On the other hand, a case can be made for Killmonger as an anti-villain.
A Question of Villainy
An anti-villain is a character that has heroic goals but uses nefarious means to achieve them. Now, let’s look at Killmonger’s goals. First, he sought revenge against the Wakandan empire that abandoned his family and the family of the man who killed his father. Second, he aims to claim the throne of King and the mantle of Black Panther. Last, as King, he seeks to weaponize Black communities oppressed throughout the world. Given the occurrences of genocide, exploitation, and oppression the Black diaspora experiences daily, many can see his thirst to even the odds via Wakandan technology. Killmonger is a war veteran especially trained to topple the world’s most dangerous organizations and leaders. He understands that physical power and resources are in the hands of an elite few at the expense of people that look like him. Progress for his community cannot be under the jurisdiction of legislators under the control of lobbyists. Whether you agree with him inciting a civil war in Wakanda or not, a revolution has proven to truly be the only catalyst for change.
Now let’s look at his methods. Immediately after ascending to the throne, Killmonger mobilized vibranium weaponry to war dogs throughout the globe. One could call this nefarious. But Killmonger did not just bear a bitter grudge against history. He also sought an immediate solution to an ongoing issue. Wakanda had remained hidden from the world for thousands of years. Killmonger was the bomb to their neutral ideology, and he ultimately helped T’Challa see the error in their ways. Because let’s face it, Killmonger was the perfect metaphor for all the Black suffering Wakanda turned a continuous blind eye to. For a place branded to be a Black utopia, they were pretty selective on who gets the perks and vibranium.
A Difference in Perspective
T’Challa and Killmonger experienced vastly different lives. While Killmonger was navigating the harsh realities of foster care, T’Challa was studying under the best scholars and trainers in Wakanda. Due to their tradition of remaining hidden, T’Challa most likely saw very little of the outside world before he started operating as the Black Panther. He would probably be in Wakanda, enjoying technology centuries ahead of the rest of the world. During that time, Killmonger would be traveling to the most corrupt places and emancipating the downtrodden. In the movie and comics, Killmonger has thousands of scars on his body to signify each life he’s taken. Many have interpreted this to label Killmonger as a blood-thirsty killer. Upon making more connections, I would have to disagree. Let’s look at some parallels.
T’Challa is the crowned prince of a country that has medicine and technology vastly more advanced than any other country in the world. However, while witnessing the numerous tragedies and atrocities occurring throughout history, they remain neutral in order to preserve their own wealth and prosperity. This sounds a lot like the governments that Killmonger was hired by the NAVY Seals to dismantle. I think that is why T’Challa ultimately decides to open their borders to the rest of the world. In realizing the hero Killmonger was trying to become, he saw, with bitter disgust, the evil in his own ways.
The Beauty of Balance
Before I get canceled, this is not a T’Challa hate post. The fact that I can make arguments like this one is why “Black Panther” was such a hit. The clash of such hefty ideals generates much needed conversations surrounding liberation tactics, respectability politics, Black pride and so much more. Although I personally won’t call Killmonger a villain, he’s a premier adversary to the status quo.