Editor’s note: Commentaries on this page contain spoilers for the “Black Panther” movie.
Marvel’s big screen adaptation of “Black Panther” surpassed all expectations of its debut, topping $700 million after its second weekend.
When I went to see “Black Panther” during the opening weekend, the excitement from the crowd radiated throughout the theater’s lobby. The joy I inhaled while standing in line took me higher than a preacher’s Sunday sermon.
The drums and opening verse to Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Panther” echoed in my head:
King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland
King of the filthy, king of the fallen, we livin’ again
King of the shooters, looters, boosters, and ghettos poppin’
King of the past, present, future, my ancestors watchin
I loved the film, but we should remember that Wakanda is a figment of imagination. More accurately, Wakanda is a creation of White imagination. Killmonger is “our” reality.
Wakanda is convenient for the consciousness of “the colonizer.” A fictional, technologically-advanced African utopia lightens the weight of oppression by using the singular case of Black excellence, embodied in Wakanda, as the benchmark instead of a beautiful, aspirational anomaly. It then places the responsibility of reconciliation on the backs of the oppressed.
Champions of truth must not only embrace the triumphs of our history, but also the painful, complicated facts of our past.
Erik Killmonger represents an uncomfortable truth. He is the Black Panther’s Kryptonite. The pain of Killmonger’s conflicted reality disrupts T’Challa’s idealistic, progressive world.
The ultimate victory of Black Panther is only secured through a cinematic miracle. Even then, the Black Panther cannot find it in himself kill Killmonger; it is Killmonger himself who chooses his own end after his final battle with T’Challa.
“Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, because they knew death was better than bondage,”
Killmonger said in his final scene as he watched the sun set on Wakanda.
Centuries of resilience isn’t some kind of honor; it is simply survival.
Although we would all like for Wakanda to exist, it doesn’t. The painful truth is that Black people were forcefully dispersed throughout the globe, isolated from our culture, countries and families. The campaign of carnage that White people led worldwide cannot be reconciled through broad aid and well-intentioned community centers.
Partnership and collaboration, two of the many underlying themes of the film, prove elusive for Killmonger. The love between Okoye and W’Kabi ended civil war. The connection between the spiritual world and technology is the lifeline of the nation. The cooperation of M’Baku and Ramonda brought hope back to life. And the love between Nakia and the T’Challa is slated to save the world.
Killmonger was not bestowed the privilege of partnership.
My knowledge of comic book adaptations is limited to Superman and the X-Men; in both movie franchises, characters faced deep moral decisions. These decisions are most often a test of character or weight of priority. These films, set in city centers, often display massive property damaged and presumed loss of innocent life.
However, the central internal conflict in “Black Panther” centered upon killing the radical pursuit of freedom.
Killmonger is a villain of White culture, the worst nightmare of the ruling class. Killmonger is the rage of millions of people who were displaced, disregarded, and discarded. Black Panther is a fictional depiction of the moral consciousness of Black people the hope for both the oppressed and the oppressor. He is the grace of God to a people undeserving.
Mainstream dialogue on race relations in the United States naively suggests that White people simply refuse to acknowledge that the crimes of American slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade continue to fuel significant disparities across the planet.
I argue that they are fully aware of their crimes, but interpret them through a filtered lens of conquest. I argue that White people’s conscious relegation of persons of color is reduced to collateral damage necessary to maintain power, wealth, and leadership.
As Killmonger fell, I longed for a Black Panther/Killmonger partnership. The partnership of rage and compassion, of power and responsibility, of justice and reconciliation deserves exploration. Resolving the conflict between the Black Panther and Killmonger is the precarious tightrope that Black folks must walk to freedom.
Killmonger’s death is also a figment of White people’s imagination. His conflicted fight for freedom lives on in the hearts of Black people across the globe.
Lynette Monroe is a graduate student at Howard University. Twitter: @_monroedoctrine.