Killmonger Is Not The Hero Of ‘Black Panther’– He’s Just Another Problematic Black Male Revolutionary

By Liz Brazile

Spoilers ahead, proceed with caution.

If you’ve consumed any media within the past few days, you already know that “Black Panther” is lending itself to many conversations in the wake of its opening weekend. The much-anticipated Marvel feature is jam-packed with socioculturally significant topics like anti-colonialism, pan-Africanism, feminism, and Afro-futurism and black folks everywhere are discussing their takeaways from the film.

I went to see “Black Panther” Friday night and by Saturday, a friend added me to a group chat dedicated to pontificating and debating about the movie. One of the discussion topics was the ambiguity regarding who the true hero of “Black Panther” is: the more obvious choice, King T’Challa, or the seemingly apparent villain, Killmonger. Some folks made a case for T’Challa as a young king, learning the ropes of leadership and trying to navigate global affairs in the best interest of Wakanda. Others dubbed Killmonger the real hero, citing his pro-black worldview and radical mission to facilitate black global sovereignty with Wakandan resources.

As an extremely part-time Marvel stan, my character analysis begins and ends with the “Black Panther” film. I can agree that T’Challa’s fortitude as a king is questionable, and his initial complacency with black oppression across the diaspora most certainly warrants criticism. But while parts of Killmonger’s quest to liberate black people look noble on paper, we can’t ignore his violence.

Revolutions don’t often come without violence—this I understand. History tells us that oppressors cannot be reasoned with or cajoled out of their repressive ways. At some point, it becomes a necessity for the oppressed to meet their oppressor with the same energy, lest they become total punching bags. But history also tells us that the black “conscious” community is more than willing to glorify a man’s pro-black charisma while conveniently overlooking the harm he does—particularly to black women. Killmonger has a penchant for brutalizing women, yet his supporters are willing to turn a blind eye in the name of restoring power to the people. This Marvel Universe occurrence mirrors the real world indifference often displayed toward black men’s intracultural violence.

While the Black Panther Party did great work in implementing health and education initiatives in black neighborhoods during the 1960s and ‘70s, the organization was riddled with problematic male leaders. Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party talked a good game when it came to the inclusion of marginalized black people in the movement. He publicly expressed a desire to join forces with feminists and gay rights activists. Yet, he sanctioned the brutal beating of Panther Liberation School administrator, Regina Davis and was alleged to have murdered a teen sex worker, Kathleen Smith for calling him “baby’. Eldridge Cleaver, another prominent Black Panther Party leader, was a self-confessed serial rapist.

I completely sympathize with folks’ hypothetical resentment towards T’Challa and Wakanda’s failure to lead any large-scale liberation effort on behalf of their brothers and sisters across the diaspora. I also understand that some of the best heroes ever created are characterized by their moral ambiguity. But heralding Killmonger as the antihero of the “Black Panther” is too gracious of an endorsement; he is a villain. The romanticization of Killmonger is a reflection of our cultural tendency to revere black revolutionaries for their personas more than we care to hold them accountable for their actions. If you don’t see T’Challa as the hero of “Black Panther”, that’s fair. But there are other, more qualified candidates like Nakia, who acts upon her concern for the state of black diasporic communities in a non-toxic, humanitarian fashion.

Art is said to imitate life. Perhaps if we were more discerning about our real-world heroes, we wouldn’t be so conflicted about the heroes and villains in “Black Panther”.

*Featured image courtesy of YouTube

11 thoughts on “Killmonger Is Not The Hero Of ‘Black Panther’– He’s Just Another Problematic Black Male Revolutionary

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  1. I really appreciate this post and I know people are going to be like “it’s just a movie can we just enjoy things for once!!” but it’s also important to pick apart what these movies are teaching us and what toxic establishments they seem to praise so we can avoid going down these same paths over and over agin. Loved everything as usual! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree with you. For me, Killmonger wasn’t just a villain. He was evil personified and he didn’t possess any redemptive qualities for me have any empathy for him. I wasn’t even remotely satisfied with the way he was allowed to die. I mean, the level of his cruelty and ruthlessness began to feel nonsensical and unnecessary as the movie progressed. There is no way I would consider him a hero, antihero, or even a worthy nemesis. And I think there are multiple heroes in Black Panther, most of whom are female.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! I co-sign on everything you just said. It’s amazing to me how so many people are straight up ignoring the fact that this dude 1) was violent as hell towards Black women and 2) had no real plan for a sustainable liberation movement other than “kill whitey”.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My daughter and I were talking about this character this evening at dinner. We believed in Killmonger’s end goal. We believed it was right that he would want the world to change and to fight for that change. What we didn’t agree with was the way he was going about getting it done. We didn’t believe the end justified the means.

    Love your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Most thinking reasonable people would agree with your assessment. As a middle-aged african/pan-African woman, I have known too many of this archetype who are given pass after pass because of their ‘revolutionary ‘ ideals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by! It’s honestly sad how low the bar for leadership can be for some folks. History has shown us many examples of male revolutionaries who rise to power and become oppressors to the very people they were supposed to liberate. You can’t overlook the violence they inflict on their own people.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am still not sure if I want to view killmonger as the villain. His plans were brutal but it feels like he had true intentions overall he just grew up in condition that made him so aggressive. I am so glad you mention Nakia as one of the true hero’s in this story. She was way more reasonable about how she wanted to help everyone in need by following what she believed was right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! Killmonger is definitely a complex character who can be sympathized with in many ways. I think the best villains and heroes are the ones who are morally ambiguous so I can appreciate why he is so polarizing.
      I would liken Killmonger to Fidel Castro in a lot of ways. Castro was a revolutionary whose platform was built on the premise of liberating the Cuban people from Western imperialism and authoritarian leader Batista. His legacy has shown he used “liberation” as a Trojan horse to take power for himself and while he did implement some progressive policies, his politics were still a major source of oppression and a lot of people suffered.
      My biggest takeaway from Killmonger’s character is that his radical mission sounds good on paper until you start unpacking how his pattern of behavior would become a source of oppression for his own people. The things he said may have sounded good at the podium but the fact is, he was a genocidal sociopath and that would have compromised his ability to be a just and effective leader in the revolution.

      Liked by 1 person

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