Ever the person to upset black twitter, I find myself yet again not agreeing with some of the hot takes I'm seeing from some of the people I respect and follow on Twitter.
I get it. Trust me I do, I even wrote about it on Dork Shelf. Killmonger's motivation, in part, is the desire to force Wakanda to answer for keeping their resources hidden while black people all around the world are suffering.
That is a layer to the character that stops him from being a Saturday morning cartoon that just wants to take over the world for no good reason. But that doesn't preclude him from being an antagonist in the film. That's probably where I should start. The distinction between all out villain and an antagonist.
In broad strokes, an antagonist is someone who conflicts with our protagonist. You don't have to paint the antagonist as evil. But you can't ignore the fact that their agenda is in opposition to the protagonist's agenda. Like they're on a collision course of sorts.
Yeah... sort of like that. You see, Black Panther, as a film, isn't concerned with traditional good guys vs. bad guys. This is evidenced in the reveal that T'Challa's father killed his own brother and abandoned his own nephew. That information doesn't retroactively make T'Chaka a villain, it just colours how his son feels about him. Why this is important is because the movie is actually about T'Challa having to make a decision. He doesn't have to win over/save the female lead, he doesn't even really have to kill off one person to save the day. He needs to decide whether it is better to uphold tradition or start a new tradition. Every supporting character in the movie has influence on T'Challa's decision.
In fact, this movie is so nuanced that there are characters who are fighting for the same thing and are still on oposing sides. This brings us to the Nakia of it all.
I haven't read all of the think pieces about Killmonger but I'd hope they bring up Lupita N'yongo's character, who I woefully said I was underwhelmed by on Spoiled Rotten [I've seen it for a third time now and I can confirm, Nakia is a great character]. Nakia wants Wakanda to change its ways and empower people who look like her all over the world. At no point does the movie try to paint her as a villain for trying to drag Wakanda out of its harmful traditions. Where are all the "Nakia was right" hashtags? She thinks that the old ways are wrong like Killmonger. She wants to share the Wakandan tech like Killmonger. She also wants to do all of that without declaring war. Or does that not matter because her harido isn't as cool as Killmonger's?
Please don't tell me we're not all rolling with the idea that Killmonger represents all African American males.
As i've stated before this movie is more complex than having stand ins for entire groups of people. At best Killmonger represents a certain type of African American male that only views the world through the eyes of an oppressed person. But I can't imagine Ryan Coogler (the directror and co-writer), an early 30s black man from the Oakland area who visited the continent of Africa for the first time when he started making this movie, thinks every African American male is represented by Killmonger in his movie.
Let's get back to Killmonger. Yes he wants to ship Wakandan tech out to the world but do you really think he's doing that so that everyone can be free?
If so, why does he burn all of the herbs that could even the playing field? Killmonger's first real act as the new Black Panther is to make it so there can never be another Black Panther. That would be fine if he didn't take what he thought was the last of the herb. Then you could see him as a man of the people. Why not ship those herbs out with the weapons? Truly empower all the people he thinks don't have a fair shot at breaking from bondage. I've got a hunch that Killmonger wants to rule the world and not by committee. I kind of feel like his ultimate plan is to subjugate a new set of people and not actually create a balanced society. It's almost like he's trying to rise to power by blaming a group of people for the woes of the world. he might be as benevolent as some would like to think. Lest we forget, Killmonger callously kills his girlfriend, if not ally, once she becomes compromised.
That's not something you ever see T'Challa do in the movie. T'Challa actually goes out of his way to save people that he thinks mean well. He even offers to save Killmonger at the end of the movie. Let that sink in. T'Challa is so compassionate that he offers to save someone who cut him up and threw him off a waterfall then declared that he would kill anyone that might even think of siding with him. He offered because he took on the sins of his father and knew that at the end of the day Killmonger was dealt a terrible hand in life.
I'm not here to prove Kill Monger is out right evil. Neither is the movie, I don't think. I'm just here to say that you might want to relax on lionizing Killmonger for the wrong reasons. Yes he's an amazing character in a great movie that has an interesting point of view. Yes he makes some good points. But, he is still an antagonist. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy him as a character. It just means you should think twice about looking at him as the real hero of the movie. His intentions may not be as honourable as you might first think.
That's what I love about this movie. It features complex characters. The fact that I want to tear up when Killmonger dies even though I know he can't co-exist with T'Challa and that T'Challa is a more compassionate person, therefore a better person to rule, speaks to that.
So no, Killmonger isn't a villain. The movie actually invites you to feel sorry for him and view him as a victim of Wakandan decisions. But that still means he's coming for the real hero of the film, T'Challa, and that makes him an inarguable antagonist in the film. That's ok, and it might actually make the movie better as a result. So let's stop looking for reasons to be mad at this movie and enjoy something made for us and by us that is not being treated as a niche film but is being displayed on the world stage.
I know offer you a path to my comments to get angry!