Editor’s note: This story contains spoilers for the film Black Panther.
I am not here to defend the Black Panther movie. Now, I happen to like it. It was well-acted and moving and is probably the second-best Marvel movie after Captain America: Winter Soldier, but that’s just me. All black people don’t have to like the Black Panther movie; people like different kinds of movies. just as they like different kinds of ice cream.
However, what you can’t do is be lactose-intolerant, walk into Cold Stone Creamery, complain that they didn’t have a nondairy version of butter-cream confetti birthday cake, then write a thousand-word think piece on how the ice cream-industrial complex is misleading black folks.
Yet, like clockwork, late-night college-dorm cypher masquerading as revolutionary Twitter and blackademia are out in force saying that Erik Killmonger was right, that the Black Panther movie is anti-revolution and that the white dude got too much screen time. There are plenty of legitimate critiques of Black Panther, but these aren’t those.
Let’s get the big one out of the way first: Killmonger wasn’t right.
I know that people are having #ExpressYourUnpopularOpinion orgasms on Twitter, and I get it; folks are out there hustling for contrarian hot takes on one of the most successful superhero films of all time to get clicks on their SoundCloud while blocking any disagreement. That’s just social media. Doesn’t mean that any of the critiques are right—and most aren’t.
Erik Killmonger (who is the best Marvel villain of all time, since Loki really doesn’t count as a villain) defeats T’Challa in ritual combat, takes over as king of Wakanda and Black Panther, and vows to use Wakanda’s advanced weapons to arm oppressed black peoples all over the world.
Some people found Killmonger’s aims to be noble and that the Black Panther movie was overt propaganda against revolutionary politics. Or some academics felt that the movie demonized black American men.
What black revolutionary thought are these folks reading?
Killmonger’s desire to free black people from oppression was noble, but his methods were ridiculous and his motives were questionable. Wakandans didn’t resist Killmonger because of his ideas. They didn’t agree with his methods, which were—again—ridiculous.
Black revolution in America hasn’t failed because we don’t have enough guns; it fails because white folks outnumber us 10 to 1, and that’s in some major metropolitan areas.
Weapons for self-defense or chasing the cops and the Ku Klux Klan out of your neighborhood are one thing, but going to war against the United States would mean the extermination of black people, no matter how many vibranium-shielded rhinos you shipped to Ferguson, Mo.
Now, if Killmonger had wanted to turn Wakanda into a refuge for oppressed blacks across the globe, or bankrupt the imperialist powers in Europe and America by creating a single African currency based on vibranium, I’m pretty sure T’Challa would have at least been willing to check out a PowerPoint.
Thing is, though, Killmonger didn’t have a good plan, no matter how his supporters try to spin it. More important, Killmonger’s plan wasn’t intentionally bad because film director Ryan Coogler wanted to discredit revolution; it was bad because there are still a lot of people dumb enough to think that black freedom in America can be achieved through direct combat. Peaceful Black Lives Matter activists get shot on the daily. What do you think would happen to a militarized black uprising?
Speaking of militancy, the notion that Black Panther is propaganda for incrementalist reform instead of wide-scale revolution can occur to you only if you didn’t watch the movie.
Wakandans are part of a never colonized, ethnocentric, isolationist, theocratic monarchy. In other words, the country is run by a royal family that worships a magical cat, and they don’t care about anybody or anything beyond their borders, regardless of race. Heck, M’Baku points out that no Black Panther had visited Jabari-Land for a thousand years, and that was like a 15-minute Hoverbike trip from Panther Palace.
How would it make sense in this movie for this nation to move from isolationists to Pan-African revolutionaries in a few hours just because a guy dressed like Lil Fizz from B2K showed up with some fighting skills and a tattoo on his lip?
Killmonger wants revolution, but only if he is in charge. W’Kabi wants imperialism, and Nakia wants humanitarianism, and T’Challa is figuring out how to move Wakanda forward and how to get his girl back. Which brings us to the white man in the middle, Agent Ross. Some critics felt the need to center him in the movie, and it’s snarky and sloppy pop-culture commentary.
The only reason Agent Ross is in Wakanda is that he took a bullet for the girl the king is sweating. Notice that the Wakandas weren’t sharing Kimoyo beads with all those dead South Koreans lying around after Killmonger freed Klaue. After that, they called Ross “colonizer,” locked him in a room, and when he volunteered to help overthrow Killmonger, Shuri, T’Challa and Nakia gave him the collective, “Oh, you’re still here?” look.
The Wakandans never trusted, embraced or fully accepted Agent Ross; he was caught up in a palace coup and proved to be useful. If you think Black Panther spent too much time on or gave too much focus to Ross, you probably think Get Out was really about Detective LaToya and the inner workings of the Transportation Security Administration, aka the TSA.
Hollywood doesn’t make revolutionary movies, and even movies that “look” revolutionary are really status quo propaganda. In every Planet of the Apes movie, the monkeys that want justice and revenge on humanity, even after years of being experimented on and oppressed, are always the bad guys. In the X-Men movies, even though Magneto is right every. single. time., he’s the bad guy. In Django Unchained, despite being a former slave himself, Django cares nothing about freeing others; all he wants is to get his wife back.
In other words, Hollywood movies only say violent revolution is OK if the oppressors are robots or aliens that we can’t have sex with (notice why they had so much trouble in Battlestar Galactica?).
However, none of these critiques apply to Black Panther. The movie isn’t anti-revolution; it’s about the best way for black people to carry out our obligations to one another, wrapped up in a coup and a bunch of computer-generated images and fancy costumes.
Killmonger’s goal was noble, but his methods were nonsense and ahistorical. Let’s save the concern-trolling think pieces until the next Tyler Perry movie; those movies are much more worthy candidates for this kind of scorn.