Angela Souza, Alumna of Case Western Reserve University
For the record, my husband and I didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day this year. We’re not big on the holiday anyway, but this year we had a more significant holiday in mind: Wakanda Day. Yes, February 15th, not the 14th, was the day that we anxiously awaited. It was the day that Black Panther, the highly anticipated Marvel Universe feature, directed by Ryan Coogler (of Creed fame), and oozing with all black, all melanin, all African everything was to be released. And oh yeah, superheroes too. Black ones.
Hearts and candy paled in comparison to the ebony excellence that we were looking forward to just 24 hours later. And let me tell you, Black Panther did not disappoint. If you haven’t seen the film yet, here’s where I provide the prerequisite spoiler alert. You’ve been warned. What are you doing with your life??? Turn Netflix off, and get some melanin superheroes in your life!
This isn’t a review of the film. I’m just here to express gratitude for the film’s villain, Erik Killmonger. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m thankful for the villain. Sure, I appreciate Michael B. Jordan just as much as the next girl (yes, God), but no, that’s not why I’m thankful for Killmonger. There’s so much more than meets the eye with this villain, and the presence of such a nuanced character on the silver screen is timely, revolutionary, and necessary.
In the 2018 adaptation of the comic, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens is the half American, half Wakandan son of N’Jobu, slain brother of Wakandan King T’Chaka. King T’Chaka kills N’Jobu after he discovers that N’Jobu is a traitor. N’Jobu, a spy, defected after living for years in America and seeing the oppressed state of black people in the country and around the globe. He devised a plan to use Wakandan resources to save them from their oppressors.
After King T’Chaka (who is also the father of T’Challa, the Black Panther) kills his brother N’Jobu, he leaves young Erik parentless and confused in Oakland to discover the body. Subsequently, Erik grows up harboring an intense rage, but also uncovers his true heritage (and the truth of what happened to his father), matriculates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and becomes a special ops soldier. His numerous kills as a soldier earn him the name “Killmonger.” He ultimately plans to go to Wakanda to take T’Challa’s throne and use Wakandan resources to “free” black people from extreme oppression, just as his father originally planned.
Damn if that ain’t righteous indignation!
I marveled (pun intended) at the film’s representation of Killmonger. Here you have a fatherless child growing up in drug-infested 90s Oakland. Still, he grows up to become an MIT graduate, special ops soldier, and an intelligent brother with a heart for helping black folks. Mind you, this is the villain ya’ll!
On top of all that, I was interested in seeing how he would be juxtaposed with T’Challa. What I didn’t want to see from this film were characters painted as either wholly good or bad. I didn’t want to see a black hero reeking of respectability or a black villain who was pure evil. And in Black Panther, the black villain stands for something.
Killmonger is the classic anti-hero. He is a man wronged who lets his heart turn dark in the pursuit of justice. Unfortunately, this is an example of the means NOT justifying the intended end. At the crux of his grievance is him wanting to see an end to suffering. BLACK suffering. Furthermore, his anger about Wakanda’s selfishness forces T’Challa to agree (partially at least) that he’s right.
Every black boy needs to see this film. Every black girl needs to see this film (hello, Dora Milaje!). At a time when people of color, immigrants, otherness, and general acceptance and diversity are attacked en masse, Black Panther is necessary.