Black Panther. The Hollywood version of when America got a Black president. It’s a movie that has captured the lion’s share of Black Americans attention for the past month at least. Since opening night, Black people have been at movie theaters dressed in their finest African garb, faces painted, sometimes playing drums, dancing, even conducting rituals, and otherwise culturally celebrating right in the lobby! We are excited about seeing a high budget film with a dominantly Black cast, Black writers, and Black director (even if not from a Black film company). No, it’s not the first time a Black comic character has been brought to the big screen, but this time the title character is a rich powerful king, not a demon (Spawn) or half vampire (Blade). In addition, and likely more importantly, Black women are integral heroes as well. I have noticed some make shaming comparisons between the support for the fictional hero Black Panther’s movie vs. the historic hero of freedom Nat Turner’s recent movie, Birth of a Nation. That’s an important comparison. It is too rich to completely discuss here, but let us look at the smear campaign launched against its writer and producer, Nate Parker, right before its release. Two things were brought up. First, an accusation of rape from his past that had already been resolved, and, second, the fact that he has a white wife. Amongst Black people, those two things would be more of a trigger to the women than to the men. Black women are also the most likely to go support a historical Black film. Which if you are astute enough, you will see that Black Panther is very much directed more at Black women than any other superhero film to date. Aside from that, I have heard many Black people say they are wary of slave movies, even if it is one of revolution.
Understandably, Black Panther answers an innate desire in Black people to enjoy stories of themselves as brilliant, resourceful heroes with superior qualities and deserving of respect. Therefore I can give props to Marvel and Disney because of acquisition, for being the first to take advantage of the “natural movement” and create a product that accurately targets the Black media consumer without cultural blowback or accusations of insensitivity. However, Disney has a history of including the occult and subliminal messaging in their products, so I had to watch carefully. I have been concerned that, beneath all the beauty that causes us to celebrate this film accomplishment, there will be subtly inserted elements to cause emotional/mental dissonance of some sort. I found some of course. For this article, I will discuss only one.
The main antagonist, Killmonger, seems to have garnered as much affection from the audience as any of the protagonists, if not more. The character has great lines that are delivered with ample charisma. Michael B. Jordan is a very capable actor (and eye candy). Apparently, there is a general empathy for his character, because we can identify with his passionate anger at oppression and injustice, and because he sounds and moves like a Pan-Afrofuturist revolutionary. All of that being backed up by the tragic plot twist of his father dying at the hands of his uncle, the previous king of Wakanda, triggers our sense of Ma’at (karma). He’s the only main character who gets to drop slang in our Black American voice. He’s the king’s cousin, but he reminds us of our cousin! All of these things have given him full access passes to our hearts. That is why he is probably the most psychologically damaging aspect of this film.
For the appropriate tone, consider the thoughtfulness put into featuring strong Black women at all levels of power. At every crucial point in the movie, a Black woman was vital to success. So it goes without saying at this point that a large part of why this movie is so beloved is because of how prominent the image of the powerful Black woman is throughout this film, on and off screen. Therefore it should have been the most vile offense that the first person Killmonger personally killed on-screen was his own [assumed] girlfriend, who was also his accomplice! We never even learned her name. Goodbye down ass Black woman with a nice twist out. Once he became king, he also choked out an elder Black woman for not wanting to burn her garden of sacred super herbs. We love how fierce and proud the all-female Dora Milaje are, and yet we quickly forgot how he cut one of their throats while she was defenseless. He wounded Nakia and was a millisecond away from killing Shuri. See the pattern I’m pointing out?? He was the ONLY main character to hurt and kill women in the movie. How does this slip past us to the point that I’ve heard, “he wasn’t really even a villain,” even from women who are usually vigilant against misogyny. Remember how we enjoyed his movie entrance by talking that talk to a woman, right until she succumbs to the drug he put in her drink.
Even with me pointing out all that, I still say he is a worthy character and had excellent potential for redemption, or even further villain development. In the comic book, he didn’t give a damn about the diaspora, he was just a crazy killer. Why was he killed at the end of the movie then? The very nature of comic books is that villains are defeated but don’t always die. In the Thor series, Loki’s treacherous ass has escaped death in multiple movies. Why did Killmonger have to die then, when it was clear that he was portrayed as motivated by deep hurt but admirable? We are to accept his death at the end as inevitable, because of the already legendary and beloved line he dropped about being like his ancestors who jumped into the ocean rather than accept bondage. But why did he even have to go to prison forever? We can heal Bucky from being the Winter Soldier but can’t get N’Jadaka out of Killmonger? Or was there no one in Wakabi’s tribe who still sympathized and could have saved him at the end? No, I think the obvious answer is “death to any Black revolutionary who fights back against oppression (without western backing).” So we are set up to love this “Black freedom fighter” only to lose him at the end, echoing the psychological terrorism of assassinating so many historical figures.
So yes, I root for the benefits that can come from this kind of film. However, I always invite my ancestors to watch Hollywood films with me and help with discernment. I’m willing to enjoy a movie and still call it out if it has unhealthy elements too. We grown.