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Black Panther: The Problem with Killmonger's Plan

February 20, 2018

First of all if you haven't seen it yet, go see Black Panther. If you've seen it already, go see it again. This is a deeply thoughtful and lovingly crafted film that's meaningful for Marvel, black communities, and society as a whole. It's an all around strong movie that satisfied both the black man and comic book fan in me. My expectations were high and I say with confidence that they were exceeded. 


Secondly, SPOILER ALERT. If you haven't seen it yet I suggest you stop reading here. (Also the first three paragraphs below are expository so if you don’t want a refresher my argument starts in the fourth paragraph.)


What struck me most was how Black Panther took on the cultural, experiential, and historical differences behind the ideological rift between Africans and African Americans, each side represented by protagonist T’Challa and antagonist Erik Killmonger respectively. Killmonger is a complex character, born out of the fires of war both overseas and domestically on the streets of a 90s Oakland. He is the American born son of Wakandan royalty. His father, a spy and brother of the then King, was killed by the King for attempting to murder the operative who uncovered his treason. This happened when Erik was just a boy. They then left him to the mercy of the streets, opting not to take him with them to Wakanda in order to preserve both the traditions and the safety of the nation. 


Wakanda has unfathomable resources. It stands as the most technologically advanced nation on the planet thanks to vibranium, a metal exclusive to Wakanda, the properties of which allowed for unparalleled technological advancement and prosperity. And yet they exist in secrecy, engaging little with the international community and upholding a Third World facade right under the world's nose. To preserve their peace, fearing that the truth would set countless enemies, chief among them the white man, loose upon them, Wakanda does not intervene in the crippling poverty, suffering, and strife that befall the colored people of the continent and the diaspora worldwide. 

Killmonger sees this as an absolute injustice.


It's an interesting question, are those who stand idly by injustice always just as bad as the perpetrators? Killmonger spent his life mastering his craft, killing countless people on and off the battlefield all toward the goal of getting to Wakanda and taking the throne. Fueled by vengeance for the loss of his father and for the deaths and despair of millions upon millions of oppressed people he believes Wakanda could have saved, he sees Wakanda’s resources and technology as the keys to the uplifting of the oppressed people worldwide, turning history and the world order into their hands. 


After successfully defeating the Black Panther and earning the throne let's take a look at Killmonger’s plan:


1. Distribute Wakandan weapons to Wakandan spies already in place internationally
2. Have them arm oppressed people
3. Seize control


To all his defenders and anyone else on the fence, this plan is trash. I'm not saying that the pain Killmonger feels isn't deep and rooted in some absolute truths - this is what makes him such a compelling antagonist. But that doesn't forgive his actions as a clearly ruthless and remorseless murderer and it definitely doesn't make the plan any less of a joke. His dad was killed for stealing vibranium in an attempt to use it for the exact same cause: exposing Wakanda and helping oppressed people. You know what happened to that vibranium? A white man used it to manufacture weapons for his own profit. 


You think you can just distribute priceless weapons of unparalleled power and complexity to people without some selling them for their own gain? Even if it's just because the money would serve the community better, those weapons are getting out. Not to mention everyone isn't ready or willing to go to war, you gonna kill those people of color too? Of course he would. White people would get their hands on those weapons and reverse engineer them before the real war even started. You think some populations wouldn't use the weapons against each other? Try to take control for themselves away from Wakandan rule? It would be an absolute disaster. All this genius to get the throne and then he throws it all away with some nonsense end justifies the means ass plan. 


Killmonger is a real, true, legitimate criminal. He’s woke, he’s black, radical and down for his people, but he is a certified killer. His best quote, “bury me in the sea with my ancestors who jumped off because they understood death was better than bondage” is powerful but highlights a disconnect I see in real life all the time - what of those who endured the bondage for centuries that their children may be freer and freer still generation after generation? Were they suckers or what? All this is to say that there's no definitive right way to fight for oppressed people, but I'm inclined to believe that societal collapse or self segregation is not the answer. 


I look to the unpopularity of the Back to Africa movement and groups like the Nation of Islam's lack of traction. Black people by and large for whatever reason have chosen to stay right here and fight the system by using the system regardless of the fact that it wasn't even built for them. Is that foolish? Who's to say. 


Can someone who would go any lengths for his people ever go too far? I don’t really know where that line is either. At the end of the day Killmonger didn't get his war or revolution. In a way I feel he became exactly what Wakanda feared, not retribution, but an outsider seeking to seize their resources for his own means. Among a few characters, notably Nakia and Shuri, who already to an extent shared Killmonger’s sentiments that Wakanda can and should do more, his story brought about a change in T’Challa. It's time for Wakanda to start doing its part through distributing aid, resources, and, by extension, opportunities to the end of uplifting the very same oppressed populations. 


I don't think that's necessarily a proven ideological victory; neither the pain and struggle of the life that produced Killmonger nor its impacts can truly be understood within the span of just a few days. The canon has Killmonger brought back to life many times over, I'd like to see his return in future Black Panther installments as well as the fruits of T'Challa's efforts. Go see it, it's well worth your money and a rewatch or two.


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