Killmonger vs. Everybody!
I saw the new Black Panther movie on Friday, February 16, 2018, during the first showing of the afternoon with my Law Partner, Danielle. We felt that if we had seen it any later, there would have been ZERO chance of being able to get in or if we did get in, enjoy it. Of course, we risked the crying babies and out of control kids that could have been an inconvenient nuisance. There were some, but in the end, we were treated to a grand display of art and cinema.
As a 43 year old former comic reader and collector, I am familiar with the Black Panther story. I was not old enough to read it from the beginning when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created it, however, my timeframe and story line was during the mid eighties, when Marvel was in the middle of Secret Wars 1 and 2; batting the Beyonder. I was a Spiderman, X Men, Conan the Barbarian, and Iron Man reader. However, due to my upbringing, I was also a Black Panther fan. Sadly, in Okinawa, where I lived on a US Military base, they refused to sell it at the hobby shop. FLAT OUT REFUSED!
Like kids AT THE TIME did, my buddies and I would talk about how this super hero could defeat that one. And though we all adored Wolverine because he was so cool and angry all the time, I always came back to, "Well, Black Panther can defeat them all!"
"WHO IS BLACK PANTHER??" they always asked. My explanation would always dive into his character and back story. How he defeated Captain America and the Fantastic Four all by himself, everything. They would pass it off as me simply talking out of my ass because they'd never heard of him.
Of course, no comic that is made into a movie can follow the storyline to the letter. The director would have to read YEARS of storyline and pick a single event, to serve as the before, during, and end in order to fill only 120 minutes of film. So I can appreciate the difficulties of comic book storytelling and film making. However, when you do deviate, you then own the tale as it is presented. This is where I have my problems with the new Black Panther movie.
THE ART OF POLITICS
Black people worldwide are/were looking forward to this movie because of its inclusion and positive representation of Black People in the superhero universe. Although, Hollywood tends to whitewash heros of colour for money, Black Panther simply could not be substituted in this manner. Well, of course, there is only one white person on the planet who could, and thankfully, he is already in the Marvel Universe, and that is Robert Downey, Jr (Tropic Thunder joke there!) who plays Iron Man and is Black Panther's partner in the Avengers (and possibly Infinity Wars).
In the movie, deviating from the comic, are two enemies, representing 2 lines of politics. Klau and Erik Killmonger. The first is "Klau:" the son of a Nazi who repeatedly invaded Wakanda and stole Vibranium, the nation's prized metal and source of its power. The second is "Erik Killmonger:" born in Wakanda, but as a child, he, his father, and family were kidnapped by Klau and forced to fight against Wakanda. The movie, of course changed this backstory, and that is fine; actually masterful in how it did so, however, in its development, mentioned that T'Chaka (Black Panther's Father and obvious former Black Panther himself) had been trying to find Klau for 30 years with no explanation why. We see years later that Killmonger is allied with Klau with no explanation. And this alliance on Killmonger's part was not to get Vibranium like Klau, per se, but to get control of Wakanda AND access to all of the Vibranium. Klau is but an Apartheid-era Boar accented afterthought. (This accent I feel was the only attempt at revealing Klau's racist background, but it was not explored. For some reason, it was perfectly fine for Cap't America to fight Neo-Nazi Hydra, but not an Apartheid-era accented racist in Klau.)
Again, I have no major problem with this deviation as well. However, where the politics collide with the Art is in that for which this movie seeks to achieve: Representation. We are SOLD (in the movie marketing and in our expectation) that Black People worldwide are Wakandan; all members of the Diaspora in the various countries around the world, and that we are royalty. However, in reality, WE ARE ALL KILLMONGER. Aside from Killmonger's personal desire to seek revenge for a T'Chaka killing his father, he is aware that that is impossible; T'Chaka died in Avengers: Civil War. But, Killmonger's main goal is not for self enrichment; he is not a bad guy at all, because he is ONLY for the Diaspora. Killmonger is for helping the Afro-Brasilians languishing in the favelas. For South Africans forced to suffer under apartheid. For Namibian Nama and Herero peoples murdered by the Germans only 30 years before the European Jewish genocide we are forced to hold above all others. For the 10 million Congolese murdered by the Belgians under King Leopold II and the many more left limbless. For the lyinchings in the United States and years of Jim Crow that Trump supporters feel was when America was its greatest. The indignities suffered by Haitians which continues to this day because they were forced to pay back the French whom they defeated twice for freedom (They more than most represent Wakanda to me). For the Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians and all those in South America helped freed by Simon Bolivar, with the assistance and training from the Haitians...no, not a single one of us was helped by Wakanda, and because these indignities exist today, Killmonger wants to change that. His sole reason for wanting to take over Wakanda was not to be a despot, not to make money or even be King, it was to help the Audience watching this movie!
And the Black Panther kills him so to prevent this from happening. How is this not 'Driving Ms. Daisy' all over again?
But in a world where Black People are simply tired of Hollywood's negative portrayals of themselves (Soul Plane, Wayans Bros., and every Master P movie ever made admitingly are self inflicted acts of cinema coonery), Hollywood doesn't desire to get the message. It instead "chooses" to satisfy its core audience: White People and a growing Chinese audience, with their seemingly supremacist attitudes towards people of colour; more specifically, Black Americans. Hollywood would typically rather exclude Black or Brown actors altogether than represent us in non-stereotypical roles. And for that reason alone, Black People world wide, the better part of 2 billion of us, are excited simply to be portrayed as strong royalty (for those who know of Black Panther's back story) or as a superhero for all.
However, in making a movie in which representation is paramount, what is shown externally must align with how we are to feel internally. That is the art in film making. Why some people want to see a "tear-jerker" versus the "feel good movie of the summer." No one will argue that Morgan Freeman was masterful in 'Driving Ms. Daisy.' However, Black People resent his role of being a doormat for an old white woman. The message being, just stay in your place until white people realize that you are not as bad as they keep telling themselves. Same could be said for Octavia Spencer in 'The Help,' or Chiwetel Ejiofor in '12 Years a Slave.' All of these actors have range and have portrayed themselves as fantastic actors. However, these hollywood stories are typical. They have Black Representation, but much like Wesley Snipes in 'Passenger 57,' our job seems to always be to save White People; so to not hurt or even harm white sensitivities. Black Panther is no exception in this regard.
KILLMONGER IS THE REPRESENTATION
Black Americans LOVE to accuse other Black People whom do not agree with as having a "Slave Mind." This tired ass indictment literally plays itself out in this movie, but with more realism than the slur. With its worldwide release, Africans, Afro-brazilians, hell, even Chinese and Malaysians are forced to pick a side and ask themselves this single question: Am I T'Challa or am I Killmonger?
If I'm to identify with T'Challa, I have chosen to allow suffering, murder, and exploitation. If I'm to identify with Killmonger, I'm using my role as the leader of the world's true Superpower to come to the known aid and assistance of oppressed Black and Brown people everywhere; the derivative cause of 90% of the earth's conflicts. There should be no irony in the fact that in the movie Killmonger is from Oakland. The Bay is revolutionary in this respect
(unless you are from Piedmont, Mountainview, Palo Alto, or one of the tech assholes ruining San Francisco). Oakland was the birthplace of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense which oddly enough was created the exact same year the Black Panther Comic was created - 1966. (No relation as Stokley Carmichael actually coined the phrase and title many years before.
And therein lies the problem. Im being subliminally instructed to celebrate and identify with T'Challa and this movie, but in doing so, I am to deny my justifiable anger for white sensitivities. I, like many ridiculous Black Christian Pastors demand, are to temper my anger so to not instigate violence or scare white people, because violence doesn't solve anything, and again, it scares White People. Think about this: After the Hurricanes of last summer, who would have helped the people of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, T'Challa or Killmonger? After Trayon Martin was murdered, who would have come to your aid: T'Challa or Killmonger? When Bull Connor and other Southern Police attacked peaceful marchers wanting equal rights under the US Constitution, who would have come to our aid: T'Challa or Killmonger? And who would have saved us all from the whips in the first place?. . . T'Challa or Killmonger? Wakanda watched and did nothing, not even for its neighbors. And not in the Comic, but in this Movie. T'Challa famously pounded the Klan in early comic editions.
Whats funny, is that the Trump racists noticed this reality in the movie too. Of course they wanted to see it. However, in true fashion, appropriating the 'Black Hero' for themselves like they have Dr. King in recent years to deter Black Americans from wanting to smash faces every time a cop shoots us, they are making the EXTREME leap, claiming the "Black Panther is Trump, and Killmonger is Black Lives Matter. With the exception that Trump is a fat blithering idiot, for whom, he would only use his seat on the throne to bang bimbos or marry them, the connections is much better suited for Obama. A real leader whom at the end, as T'Challa, would rather equally give his gifts than to knowingly give them to the most needy, so to not seem like he is picking sides. However, in doing so, he ensures no protection from those already being subjugated and oppressed.
If I were an Afro-Brasilian watching this movie, I would identify with Killmonger. If I were Haitian, Afro-Colombian, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Panamanian, Palestinian, Barbadan, Trini, Aruban, the few conscious Dominicans, Guatamalan, Southern Afro-Mexican, Jamaican, South African, Senegalese, Ghanaian, Kenyan, Ethiopian, Yemenese, Malian, Nigerian, Namibian, Congolese, or even Bosnian, I would identify with Killmonger...not T'Challa, and I would welcome Killmonger to the throne for I know my deliverance from oppression is coming.
If the new Black Panther movie as depicted in this film told People of Colour everywhere anything, its that No one is coming to help you...not even your brother.
We are all Killmonger, and since we are alone, its Killmonger vs. Everybody.
Malik Leigh, Esq.