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Black Panther – Does Killmonger Have a Point?

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black panther and king T'Challa
If you can help, are you morally obligated to do so?  What is better: peaceful existence with a whiff of moral cowardice, or committing purposeful acts of brutality, to achieve real cultural equality?

[Spoilers ahead for everything Black Panther but not Infinity War]

For Black Panther Week, and before the 2019 Oscars, I’d like to give this gorgeous and exciting film a shoutout. Black Panther is up for no less than SEVEN Academy Awards, so beyond being yet another fantastic Marvel Universe superhero film, the tone struck a cord with audiences everywhere. And the more you dig into the narrative, the more story layers are revealed.

From the website Shadow and Act comes this thoughtful and possibly inflammatory piece (depending on your point of view). Do you believe the ends justifies the means? Can we ethically pursue freedom while co-signing on acts of inhumanity, in order to arrive at a more enlightened state?

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Here’s the aforementioned article, which goes into some detail on Killmonger’s anti-heroic, yet not entirely misguided journey:

If you don’t agree with anything here, that’s fine too.  But it’s clear within Black Panther that some of our ostensible heroes are either committing their own foul acts (at worst), or turning a blind eye to them (at best).

(Remember, spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen Black Panther, but you are safe if you haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War.)

Who’s Right? Who’s Wrong?

It’s really only T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) spy girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o )who takes a strong stance on this issue. The entire royal family is otherwise quite comfortable in their position of prestige and luxury in the hidden Utopia of Wakanda.

I would say T’Chaka  — the kingly father of T’Challa — in his seemingly casual decision to abandon young Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) to the streets of Los Angeles, and by extension, the rest of the children lost from the diaspora, is cowardly and wrong-thinking (especially after killing his brother/Erik’s father!). But even the most noble kings have flaws. The movie takes great pains to point this out. Killmonger is beyond awful in his methods, yet is full of righteous rage, worthy of consideration.

In the above linked article, this line seems to stand out: “Swirling in constant reminders of worthlessness, of the specific anti-Black-American toxicity experienced by Black folk in the U.S.A., Killmonger is angry—not just at white supremacist oppressors or systemic racism, but also the Black Elite who left him behind. And he has every right to want vengeance.”

It’s a little risky to place your eponymous superhero in a morally questionable stance, but the movie and T’Challa himself (eventually) rise to the challenge. After the events of Avengers: Infinity War, we are forced to see how this might play out between Wakanda and the outside world.

All the Stars song and end credit image from black panther
What is the true role of a leader? Are you responsible for a nation, a race, a world, or even (within the MCU) the galaxy?

What Can We Take Away From Killmonger and His End Goal for Wakanda?

I asked our RunPeep Shani Ogilve  (see her previous post on A Black Perspective On Black Panther) for a few words about the Forgotten Children of Wakanda, and how sympathetically we can view Killmonger, his mission, and the central lesson of the Black Panther film:

Ogilve writes: “This is a great piece. To start, #TeamKilmonger with a caveat — there is no other team to be on. Killmonger can be compared to other figures in fiction and history — Malcolm X and Magneto come to mind. Though their methods also are extreme, they are justified. I usually go for the MLK and Professor X route, but in Black Panther’s case T’Challa wasn’t even any type of activist. Maybe Killmonger was the martyr for the diaspora. His hurt brought enlightenment to T’Challa, to hopefully step up and make meaningful changes to other black communities.

“I also would say that the blame doesn’t fall on Wakanda or T’Challa completely. Though Wakandans aren’t completely ignorant of how Black people outside of Wakanda are living, they aren’t all-knowing of the Black experience in America or elsewhere. That is honestly an experience that you must experience yourself to actually understand.

“Additionally, it’s not fair to say that because they are doing better than other Black communities, they should be the ones to help them. I don’t hate Wakanda for not helping, because I don’t actually believe that anything they do will make an impact big enough to change systematic injustices. I believe the only way to fix the injustice in our society — and hopefully prevent future Killmongers —  is for the colonizing bodies of the world to do what they must, to reverse the effects of colonization and slavery. By any means necessary.”

Things Black Panther Still Makes Us Think About

Who is really a true villain in the MCU, and who is better termed an ‘anti-villain’? Would you say you understand and sympathize with Killmonger in some way, or his stance? Are all methods fair — even through deliberate murder, casual brutality, and the possibility of inciting a world war — in the name of the greater good?

And on the other hand, as with T’Challa’s choice, if you CAN help others, are you morally obliged to do so? These aren’t easy questions. Feel free to sound off in the comments below. I won’t rip your heads off for your opinion. 🙂

#BlackPantherWeek #WakandaForever #IHaveADream

More RunPee Posts About Black Panther:

Avenger Superhero Powers, by Category

All The Stars – End Credits Song from Black Panther – Video and Lyrics

Don’t Stop Me Now – Video and Lyrics by Queen in Shaun of the Dead

Captain Marvel – Better Than I Expected – A White Male’s Review

How to Dress Like You’re From Wakanda in Black Panther

All The Stars – End Credits Song from Black Panther – Video and Lyrics

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  • Life on Earth After Avengers: Endgame (post-post Snap) -

    […] One great side question asked in this video: who’s been running Wakanda for the past five years? I always assumed Shuri would take up the mantle, until it was revealed in Endgame trailers she was Snapped too. And if someone like M’Baku became King, are they any heart-shaped herbs left to give him Black Panther powers? Either way, does T’Challa automatically become King again (heartfelt Endgame coda aside)? Let’s assume Black Panther 2 deals with this. It’s going to be hard to make that interesting, since the first Black Panther movie already tread this ground in some detail. […]

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