Wakanda Forever? The Case for Erik Killmonger
Let’s talk Black Panther now, ok?
If you haven’t seen it by now, you’re just lazy and deserve the spoilers you’re about to receive.
I went to see Black Panther a couple of weeks ago. I decided to go on a Sunday in the middle of the day when most people were still in church. I wanted to go during a time in which there would be the fewest amount of moviegoers in the theater. I was excited because this movie was projected as one that would have a powerful impact on the way Hollywood depicts black experience.
I went to the theatre ready to defend Black Panther. Before arriving, I scrolled through social media, finding blogs and statuses from both black and white folks who were celebrating the movie. I also noticed a few of my black friends expressing that the film didn’t meet their expectations. They shared blogs that offered some criticisms of it. Marvel movies are my guilty pleasure. Although I’m not a Marvel expert, I know enough about Marvel to know that Marvel is hardly ever going to be a source of consciousness. For this reason, I was pretty cynical toward bloggers that criticized Black Panther for not fully meeting their expectations. I was ready to go to war for Black Panther. Then, I watched it.
….After the movie, I walked to my car and sat for a minute. My dad, knowing that I was planning to see it, texted afterward to see if I liked it and would recommend it to him. My dad has been my compass for detecting subtle, racist undertones in cinema since I was a kid. While explaining the positive aspects of the movie, I described the cinematography, the music, and the women. But after thinking more about my father and who he is, I ended the text with, “ You probably won’t like it.” After my first watch of Black Panther, I wasn’t ready for the conclusion that I felt creeping up. So I decided to watch it again later that evening. After my second viewing, my opinion was cemented.
So let’s hop right in, shall we?
Black Panther is mostly a subliminal dig at the efforts of African American men and their attempts to overthrow white oppression. Honestly, this movie felt like a dig toward African American men in general. White audiences are easily thrilled because it uplifts the experience and culture of Africans. White affection towards Africans and simultaneous white apathy towards African Americans is well documented. It’s the reason for $5000 mission trips to Africa and $0 mission trips to the hood 20 minutes away from them. It has always been more comfortable for white America to digest the plights and experiences of Africans than it is for them to understand African Americans. In Black Panther, the villainy of Erik is an outcome of African error. It’s easier for white America to accept this narrative instead of the actual reality that the Eriks of America are largely a result of the abuse inflicted upon black men by white America. The Eriks we know are molded into villains on movie screens and in reality. In real life, the Eriks we know are riddled with bullets in their bedrooms while they sleep. In real life, Eriks are assassinated in their driveways or on hotel balconies. Yet, according to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Erik is primarily a product of a non-loyal African. In real life, Eriks are the product of American fuck shit. But that’s not the story told in Black Panther. Hence, the reason white America has embraced it. Hence, the reason Black Panther is selling millions per weekend.
Upon Erik’s entrance into the movie, I feel a connection to him due to an ability to understand his experiences. His style, dialect, poise and overall presentation immediately alerted me that he was African American. His introduction also alerted me to the fact that I was not genuinely relating to the movie or the characters until he arrived. Wakanda was otherworldly and untouchable until Erik. For me, this realization created a sense of protection and slight defensiveness on behalf of his character. It also gave a brief sense of hope that a black American would possibly contribute heroic efforts to the welfare of Wakanda. We learn that the birth of Erik is due to an African father who came to America. Erik’s father has goals to use the unknown, prized Wakandan resources to help equip people of African descent in America. This desire is passed onto Erik. As the movie continues, my feeling of hope dissipates as I realize that this desire is used to cultivate Erik’s villainy.
Given the climate of this modern age, many of us, as African Americans, wonder what it would be like to return to Africa. Right now, we have a president who is resistant to the survival and freedoms of people of color. We have a president whose campaign was filled with hate rhetoric and mostly supported by Americans who do not want us here. We have sincere curiosity towards the experience of returning to Africa. Not only that, during moments of white hatred, black Americans are often told to do just that. As a result, due to everyday experiences that communicate we are not entirely welcomed in America, we wonder what it would be like to “go back.” Wakanda is a fantasy, African, holy land that invites us into the imagination of that curiosity. Wakanda, for black people, is the representation of our land of milk and honey. You probably noticed this in our excitement as we prepared to see Black Panther. We want to be a part of this culture. So when we watch the film, and see that the one prominent African American character is portrayed as a villain of the culture we would love to be immersed in…THAT’S PROBLEMATIC.
No accurate Black Panther reference is successfully honorable without proper homage given to African American men. Black Panther, the movement, was originated by black men from Oakland (Note that the character, Erik, was from Oakland). Attempting to pay tribute to the reference of Black Panther while simultaneously characterizing the only prominent, Black American male role as a villain is questionable. As the credits roll for Black Panther, the subliminal message for us is that there is no true Wakanda for African Americans. The message is that there is nowhere for us to escape oppression. There is no actual home for us. Sure, T’Challa and his little sis are willing to come to Oakland to build a STEM center but….ok? As a whole, according to Marvel’s Black Panther- we are still a lost people. We are a people who have been told that death or bondage are our only options. Even Wakanda could not save Erik. Even “going back to Africa” could not save Erik. Neither Wakanda nor America accepted Erik. Furthermore, not only is Erik not allowed into the Wakandan culture, it ultimately kills him.
Per the character arc of Erik, there is no place in Wakanda for the Huey Newtons, the Bobby Seales, the Malcolm X’s, the Assata Shakurs, nor the Angela Davises. Too bad that without true reverence paid to the essence of those individuals, Marvel has issued a weak nod to the spirit of the Black Panther.
Furthermore, fuck the narrative that Marvel thought no one would detect. The tale that even within the black diaspora from which we are birthed, American black men ain’t shit and American black women aren’t even thought of.
A list of shit I don’t trust about the movie, Black Panther:
- The intent supporting the portrayal of tension that exists between African and African American communities on a broad scale.
- The intent supporting the depiction of the sole African American character of the movie.
- The intent supporting the portrayal of Erik’s anger and violence without a truthful representation of it source ( There is a scene in which T’Challa states that Erik is a “monster” that his father or Wakanda created. The subliminal message attached to that scene is laughable.)
- The intent supporting the portrayal of Erik’s death and the manner by which he died.
- The intent supporting the portrayal of Erik’s death which also served as a representation of the end of his thoughts and ideas. ( His thoughts and ideas were to equip people of color and oppressed peoples across the world with weapons and resources to fight against systemic oppression. Specifically, his goal was to use those resources to attack current systems of power that are keeping those peoples oppressed. Erik challenged T’Challa’s selfish retention of funds. He planned to redistribute African resources to not only African Americans but all oppressed peoples.)
Black Panther is cute for kids and easily impressed white folks in the elementary stages of learning how to be allies. But for grown black folks in America…the idea of Wakanda is a bit disrespectful. We can admire the culture. We can respect the powerful women characters. We can admire the scenery. We can also discuss the true, positive impact that a film full of black heroes and SHEros will have on generations of black children to come. But when it’s all said and done, for African Americans, “Auntie” Ramona made it clear. Wakanda ain’t for us. And we aint for Wakanda.
I hope for unity between black Americans and Africans that produces self-sufficiency and sustainable health within our communities. A Wakanda for Erik would have likely humbled him and eased the anger he possessed as a result of the traumatic experience attached to being ‘lost.’ A Wakanda without Erik is a nation only concerned with preserving itself and doing charitable, feel-good missions for oppressed people in other countries. A Wakanda with Erik uses its resources to permanently topple evil oppression and provide sustainable, powerful resources to the downtrodden. In real life, Africans and African Americans can partner to cultivate this reality. But.. this is a storyline that probably won’t sell well in theaters.
…Also, I was correct. My dad didn’t like it.