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The Most Important Moment in Black Panther No One Is Talking About

How Criticisms Of Black Panther Missed The Forest for the Vibranium

Black Panther and Killmonger on the Ancestral plane

SPOILER ALERT

The most powerful moment in a movie filled with rich themes and meaning, unbelievable action and futuristic technology came in a quiet and solemn conversation between T’Challa and his deceased father, T’Chaka, as they spoke in the ancestral plane. In that moment, Black Panther collapsed before his baba and confessed that he was unsure of his ability to be king in the absence of his father. That’s when it happened. That’s when T’Chaka spoke to every Black person around the world and quietly said…

But first,

Criticisms of Black Panther

The first real criticisms of Black Panther emerged even before the opening weekend was completed. Most of the critiques address disappointment in the role of the CIA and the perceived depiction of Black liberation in the film.

First, Christopher Lebron argues that Black Panther, “in the midst of powerful portrayals of Black women, depends on a shocking devaluation of black American men.” Lebron claims:

…[V]iewers have two radical imaginings in front of them: an immensely rich and flourishing advanced African nation that is sealed off from white colonialism and supremacy; and a few black Wakandans with a vision of global black solidarity who are determined to use Wakanda’s privilege to emancipate all black people.

These imaginings could be made to reconcile, but the movie’s director and writer… makes viewers choose.

Journalist Leslie Lee, III had, perhaps, the most biting version of this critique:

Here, Lebron and Lee have oversimplified the complex narrative director Ryan Coolger presented and reduced it into a “good guy versus bad guy” trope in which lines must be drawn and teams formed: Team T’Challa versus Team Killmonger.

However, Coogler wasn’t asking the audience to choose. Coogler was asking the audience to see ourselves in the blurred lines of heroes and villains where we, the viewers, are both victims and monsters.

 

T’Challa as Hero and Villain

Wakanda was a xenophobic, isolationist nation led by an elitist monarch focused on maintaining their own ethnostate. In this manner, T’Challa and the people of Wakanda were villains to the world of poor and impoverished people whom, like Killmonger, they abandoned. As we cheered for their isolation to remain intact — even if only for their own protection, we too became villains. The irony of this, of course, is that we — the Black American audience — aren’t Wakandans; rather, we are the abandoned children of Wakanda.

T’Challa and the Wakandans were the heroes of the narrative insomuch as they allowed us to dream of a world untouched by colonialism. They can be considered heroes in that they saved Wakanda and their technologies from being improperly introduced into the world and saved the world from being engulfed in a war that undoubtedly would kill hundreds-of-millions including Black people.

Some may see T’Challa as a hero for his efforts to help “fix the problems of the inner-city” at the end of the movie through “outreach centers.” I do not view this as heroic. I view this as a tired-cliche of elitist efforts to rid themselves of guilt over the poverty that surrounds their unimaginable wealth.

 

Killmonger as Hero and Villain

Killmonger was a broken and abandoned child of Wakanda forced to fend for himself in a white supremacist society who overcame with nothing more than his own determination. In this way, Killmonger was a hero. He spoke of Black liberation and the plight of Black people around the globe. He properly diagnosed the problem of Wakanda’s isolationism and abandonment of Black people around the world. In this way, Killmonger is our hero.

However, Killmonger was not a symbol of Black liberation despite his words and language deceptively conveying as much. In any event, Black liberation is not a solidified and agreed upon concept amongst Black people in the real world. How could Killmonger, who was created by two white men, ever be the personification thereof?

As in the comics, Killmonger was a psychotic killer. His motivation wasn’t the liberation of black people any more than it was to properly and carefully lead Wakanda. He claimed that the “sun will never set on the Wakandan empire” yet he destroyed the garden of the Heart-Shaped Herb — the mystical plant that grants the Black Panther his superhuman abilities. This meant that, after Killmonger, there would be no other Black Panther to protect Wakanda leaving her vulnerable to an outside world that would now have access to Vibranium technology and weapons.

Killmonger’s goal was to cause the world to suffer as much as he suffered. He was willing to destroy the world along with Wakanda to ensure we all experienced his pain.

 

Both Victims and Monsters

This is exactly the complex narrative with which the director wanted the audience grapple. Wakanda was as much a part of the problem as they were the heroes of the story. Killmonger was a multi-layered villain with the proper diagnosis of Wakanda’s sins. He had the emotional trauma that reasonably supported his Disney-esque, villainous plot to rule the world but needed to be stopped nonetheless.

 

Evil Radicals versus the Good CIA Agent?

Sociologist and author, Crystal Flemming, wanted to know how the Black Panther Party for Self Defense would feel about a movie that represents “black radicalism as the ultimate evil and [portrays] the CIA as the friend of Wakanda,” concluding that this portrayal was “offensive and violent on a level that is difficult to put into words.”

Flemming, like Lebron and Lee, incorrectly viewed Killmonger as a symbol of black liberation and radicalism. He was not. Killmonger was a symbol of his own ambition.

Black radicalism was not represented as the ultimate evil; world domination through ruthless violence, even at the hands of Black people, was the evil that the Wakandans stopped. Should we who fight against the evil and brutality of American imperialism now excuse that same brutality and domination simply because its wielded by our brother?

And what of the CIA? Black Panther, along with every other comic and movie in the MCU is an American-centric story. At the core of this universe is both the duplicitous and brutal SHIELD and CIA. In every other Marvel movie, these organizations are venerated — even at times when they appear to be fascistic and authoritarian. In Wakanda, the CIA was reduced to a single character who filled the role that Black people have had to fill in nearly every movie ever created — the hapless, token character who would not survive without the help of the heroes.

If the CIA or SHIELD had to be present in the movie for MCU continuity, I prefer my agents as the useless tokens who we all wondered, “Why is he even here? Why is he speaking?” versus the venerated, authoritative position given in every other MCU movie.

And then there was this critique offered by former Green Party Vice-Presidential candidate, Ajamu Baraka:

This critique is worth mentioning; however, it has been sufficiently addressed in this piece. Black Panther was not meant to represent Black liberation or radicalism. The movie highlighted the problems that exist even in an utopian Black society.

The so-called villain, Killmonger, was heroic in that he exposed the problems of Wakanda and pushed the so-called hero, T’Challa, away from his own extremism of isolationism. Nevertheless, Killmonger was the greater villain in that he sought global, Black domination through the same violence and force we oppose in American imperialism.

Stand Up. You Are a King

What makes Black Panther so revolutionary as a storyline is that Black people could, for the first time on this scale, see ourselves as the hero and the villain without the need to ignore the fact that we aren’t white.

But how we identified with the characters went far beyond race. We could see ourselves having the heart of King T’Challa as he learned to cope with his responsibilities as leader and protector of his people while fighting the imposter syndrome — the feeling that we aren’t qualified for the positions we hold.

Simultaneously, we saw ourselves as the villain, Killmonger, dealing with the trauma of being abandoned and alone to grow up as a Black person in a white supremacist society.

We could see ourselves as the father of T’Challa, T’Chaka, who did what he thought was best for his family and his kingdom ultimately creating the monster that almost destroyed his beloved son. How many generational curses are we passing down to our children?

I especially saw myself in the father of Killmonger, N’Jobu — the character who is awakened to the harsh realities of what it is to be Black in America — desperately searching for a solution that escapes each of our generations.

Ryan Coogler gave us the opportunity to see ourselves simultaneously as Africans as well as the abandoned children of Wakanda — the Black American.

And then, in the midst of identifying with so many different characters and all our fantasizing about the untold riches and technologies of Vibranium, Coogler handed us the most painful gift: a personal canvas onto which a fresh and deep sorrow would need to be expressed because of the realization that there was and is no Black Panther who could save us. There is no Wakandan home to which we can return.

Black Americans were not abandoned in the United States like Erik Killmonger; we were stolen and sold into slavery. There is no Wakanda. Colonialism raped our homeland almost to the point that she was barren, destitute, and impoverished. Neocolonialism is presently extracting the remaining wealth of that continent and we Black Americans are complicit with our diamonds and smartphones.

Out of all the tragedies, scars and wounds depicted in Black Panther, it is still the wounds of our reality that pierce the deepest.

It is in that sadness that the film demonstrates the potential for the greatest impact: There is no Black Panther coming to save us. There is no Wakanda to go home to. And in the absence of such wonderful dreams, we — Black people around the world — must continue to stand up and be the fantasies of which we dream — just as T’Chaka told his son, King T’Challa, as they stood in the solemn moment of the ancestral plane, “Stand up. You are a King.”

Written by Benjamin Dixon

Benjamin Dixon

Good guy gone bad...sorta.

Benjamin Dixon is the Editor in Chief of Progressive Army and a member of its Editorial Board.

Host of The Benjamin Dixon Show, which airs Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 9pm ET and Wednesdays at 8pm ET on YouTube and Spreaker.

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Tomiko Nichols
Guest
Interesting. So very many layers, so complex, just like real life. This may seem off topic at first but stay with me. I thought one of the best things to witness was the role of women. Men have been deciding for us what we are or should be attracted to. We saw the Americanized Killmonger discard his woman like a used tissue. We saw the respect given to Okoye when protecting something more important than her love for one man, her love for her country. I saw so much strength and respect in W’Kabi, down on his KNEES, with a… Read more »
Andre
Guest
Actually, the movie was about black power in my opinion. We tend to credit the militant movement in Oakland California once led by Huey P Newton and others with the title “Black Panthers” or proper “Black Panther Party”. The reason why I think the movie promotes black Power was for the fact they had their own county and own government with sustainable rare resources. Which to me is power, Black Power the same type of black power people give respect to the militant organization in California. Again we also give credit to the wrong Black Panther Party, yes I said… Read more »
Jaimie Angers
Guest

Without also looking at why T’Challa became the Black Panther in the first place, you completely “Missed the Forest of the Vibranium” as you put it. You can’t really write a thorough character analysis without seeing the full character development and understanding the complete narrative of Black Panther within MCU. I suggest watching at least Captain America: Civil War, and then re-watching Black Panther with the eyes of someone who actually knows T’Challa’s origin story. It’s pretty much the exact same as Kilmmonger’s.

Ben
Guest

Yeah, I’ve read most of the comics and saw Civil war. But feel free to expound further.

Ham Sandwich
Guest
By the movies end, T’Challa understood Killmonger’s point but decided to go about it in a more peaceful diplomatic way by building up communities affected by poverty. Killing white people wasn’t the solution. He mentioned during their final showdown that Killmonger wanted to become exactly like the people who he hated so much. They were all fighting so they wouldn’t turn evil from hatred and racism. The current US establishment (which is run by white people) is in danger of losing its position of power. Not saying any of this with racist intentions. All the money and policing in the… Read more »
Paula
Guest
Thank you for this critique. I loved the film, but this morning I awoke after my subconscious had started to say – wait a minute, let’s reflect on some of the messages…. That pivotal scene where the antagonist Killmonger makes that bold statement that that should he surrender to T’Challa – and somehow compares that to the same fate as slavery – was confusing to me. On the one hand, we get a bold reminder of Africans who chose death over an anticipated deadly fate. On the other hand, are we getting a message that black Americans, men especially, have… Read more »
Josh
Guest

Hi Paula – I just watched BP last night. Loved it. My recollection of this scene is that it was assumed that Killmonger would be in Wakandan jail, not that he would be welcomed into Wakandan society.

Trevor Vargas
Member

“At the core of this universe is both the duplicitous and brutal SHIELD and CIA. In every other Marvel movie, these organizations are venerated”

Actually, what I loved about the Captain America movies is that they explicitly portray SHIELD as untrustworthy.

Maureen Esther
Member
Why do you focus on the violence? You know what you failed to notice? Combat in Wakanda is not gory, they consider guns abhorrent, the WOMEN comprise the army, they use spears, and they fight hand to hand, but FIRST, they confront with words. Who brought in violence? Erik, in his twisted anger, becoming the hand of the CIA, trying to infiltrate paradise. And T’Challa had to admit that he was not perfect, that his father, nor any of the past kings of Wakanda were perfect. Seriously, how did you *miss* the WOMEN of Wakanda? Heroes, all, from the Queen… Read more »
Hasani Carter
Guest

[Some may see T’Challa as a hero for his efforts to help “fix the problems of the inner-city” at the end of the movie through “outreach centers.” I do not view this as heroic. I view this as a tired-cliche of elitist efforts to rid themselves of guilt over the poverty that surrounds their unimaginable wealth.]

I view it as a necessary step. A step that continental Africans must take, if they truly have concerns about the diaspora disrespecting African culture, and viewing it as Killmonger did. The onus is on them to teach us.

Uche
Guest

The onus is on both to teach each other. You’re coming from the perspective of a black American I presume expecting continental African to educate you so you can stop disrespecting African culture. That is the height of entitlement. While many Africans don’t learn much about slavery because that aspect of education is non-existent, the victims of slavery were still our ancestors and forefathers. Lineages ended and disappeared. Families were broken and lost forever.

Anita
Guest

Uche, I completely agree with your overall point. However, many continental Africans do very much know of the history of slavery. It is their history as well, in a different way. They view it as a great mistake in the history of their people and their countries. It is taught in schools. Not only that white men came, but also that certain tribes contributed to the slave trade. I’ve had the honor of being in West Africa often and my friends there have a deep sadness for this part of our shared history.

Curtis
Guest

Thank you!!

Josh
Guest

One small point re: the CIA – I the agent broke with the CIA during the casino scene. I’m blanking on the details but I remember him lying to cover for T’Challa, maybe it was later during the interrogation. Maybe I’m misreading or mis-remembering that, but I think it makes a difference when you’re talking about whether the movie portrays the CIA as an ally.

✡️Ben Rosenberg
Member

But Ross wasn’t there as an ally. He was there because he took a bullet for Nakia. Had he not jumped in front of a bullet for her then he’d never have been taken to Wakanda in the first place. He was fairly irrelevant.

If most non-comic reading folks are mad about Ross then …

http://comicbook.com/marvel/2018/02/16/black-panther-who-is-white-wolf-bucky-marvel/

Barnes is specifically referred to as White Wolf who is the head of security for Wakanda and a white dude. BPp2 should stir all kinds of WTF? I’m betting.

Thomas Cunningham
Guest

Bucky as White Wolf makes sense for the MCU, but the comic book origin of the character shares a lot with Tarzan mythos. Orphan white child… stranded in Africa… brought into a royal family and embraced as a son… But, yes… except for the fact that Bucky’s programming appears to have been broken by Shuri (creating a strong sense of loyalty to Wakanda), he’s potentially a lot more troubling than Ross… ESPECIALLY since he’s a super soldier with physical powers almost identical to Black Panther.

Thomas Cunningham
Guest
T’Challa was more impacted by A) his father’s EXTRAORDINARILY poor choice of abandoning Erik and his empathy for his cousin’s struggle B) his (former) best friend and confidante who outlined a less extreme engagement strategy and C) his former lover (and obviously important figure) Nakia. T’Challa was inching closer to a change in perspective, even as older council members fought to maintain the status quo. The depth of Killmonger’s treachery and psycopathy forced his hand, but he was clearly different than his father, just as his comic book character was educated abroad and made himself (and Wakanda) known to the… Read more »
Ryan
Guest

I can’t believe the planet Krypton was so advanced and yet still fought eachother, I mean what kind of message are we sending our children that even intelligent people still can’t compromise, and Thor does a pretty bad job of showing the average white family, the children are constantly fighting, the mother was murdered, the father is distant. This sets such a dangerous mind set for modern families

Spiritdancer
Guest
I totally agree that the movie was too violent. I loved the movie but my only issue was the cold-blooded violence. Even with little blood, the movie seemed to celebrate violence. I see so many people taking young kids below 13 to see this for the cultural effect like taking kids from the Boys and Girls clubs etc. But I feel and always did feel that as Black people we tolerate too much violence in our culture and media consumption. Also, it really did not make sense that such an advanced civilization that supposedly was enlightened and abhorred violence would… Read more »
G. Lewis
Guest

Regarding the CIA, it should be noted, though the article does not, that the one CIA operative, played by “Bilbo” lol, notes that Killmonger’s acts of ruthlessness are extensions of exactly what the American military and the CIA trained him to do, which says something about their nature that is anything but benevolent.

Smooth
Guest

Director Alfred Hitchcock used what was called, the MacGuffin in many of his movies. In fiction, a MacGuffin is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. In Black Panther’s case, Vibranium IS the MacGuffin. This movie is more about abandonment, resentment, bitterness and redemption.

Toyce Francis
Guest
Great article… I concur with nearly everything you said. Except… I disagree with the idea that Killmonger representing Black liberation was incorrect. Yes, he had his own ambitions and goals beyond black liberation, but the end result was still Black liberation and unification of oppressed people world-wide. So in that sense, he absolutely represented Black liberation. And his extremity does not negate what would have been the product of his actions. And I also agree that the community center was underwhelming. When you have a network of spies all around the globe, even if you don’t use the druglords, you… Read more »
Romy Toussaint
Guest
I was desperately hoping that BP and maybe his sister could reach inside the soul of KillMonger and help him heal and become a true and valuable ally for Wakanda – maybe the heart flower would heal past his past hurts. I didn’t want him to die. I thought – please tell me you have a secret patch of heart flower growing somewhere else – but that opens a sequel – via the intro to a one-armed Bucky at the end which probably 80% of movie-goers will miss by leaving too early? Yes I’m one of those who stays all… Read more »
Paula
Guest

I should know better to proof read – wrote hurriedly and wish I could edit or delete. Anyway, hope you are able to read through quite a few unfinished thoughts and bad grammar.

Elijah Reese
Member

Why neglect or ignore our own ethnicnity/origin by saying “black american”? African not even mentioned in that even when this article is about a film that emphasizes that very thing. Michael B Jordan said, “Didn’t all life begin on this continent? Aren’t we all Africans?” That is the greatest crime we can do to ourselves is not practicing our own true identity. On top of wearing names that do not come from our people.

Gerald Brown
Guest

I rock with this article heavy heavy. I would love to hear your perspective on M’Baku and Jabari tribe role in the restore of T’Challa as king. Is this a testment to the power of Black Solidarity or is there something much deeper you see?

Jeremy
Guest

Article got it wrong… he did not fall to his knees confessing he was not ready to be king. His father said the same after telling him to rise and techala corrected him saying He not reach to be without his dad..

Ray Shell
Guest

Peeps its A MOVIE. Like Superman, Spiderman , Batman et al I can’t believe you peeps are looking for CRITICAL ANALYSIS and REAL LIFE LESSONS from a comic strip character. The MOST IMPORTANT thing about BLACK PANTHER is that it shows that BLACKNUSS can equal GLOBAL BOX OFFICE SUCCESS and perhaps open new markets for REAL DEAL BLACK films that CAN teach us something;.BLACK PANTHER is NOT that film.

Spiritdancer
Guest
No, not just a comic book movie, genius 🙂 It’s art and art can teach us a lot no matter what the form. Obviously, the creators pulled a trojan horse and used this 200 million vehicle of a MC movie to get their very important messages and images to us. So glad they took this opportunity to do that and not just sell out like so many of their peers who for 50 years have had the financial means to do this movie long ago Oprah, Cosby, Jackson, Jordan – shall I go on. African Americans are the 15th largest… Read more »
Chris
Guest

Its a comic book theres no superheros. Theres no Wakanda. Grow up.

Spiritdancer
Guest

Noooooooooooooooo! Wakanda forever!

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