Is Erik Killmonger a villain or a hero? | The Tylt
Michael B. Jordan has received praise for his performance as Erik Killmonger in "Black Panther," but the character's radical politics are being debated by many critics. Killmonger is being revered as a sympathetic and relatable villain, like Magneto or Loki, but there are plenty of supporters who argue radicalism shouldn't be considered villainy or demonized. Others argue Killmonger's politics are aligned with violence and that's never the answer for combating oppression. What do you think?
Is Erik Killmonger a villain or a hero?
THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD IN SOME OF THE SUPPORTING EVIDENCE! WE TRIED TO KEEP THEM TO A MINIMUM.
The Atlantic's Adam Serwer writes that "Black Panther" is a love letter to both Africans and African Americans. Hence, the film is actually for the black diaspora because it encompasses black people individually, globally and collectively. But he also writes about how Wakanda created Killmonger, a once-abandoned African-American child who argues Wakanda turned its back on oppressed black people around the globe, as the nation secretly thrived. He writes:
It is also The Void that creates Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger, the antagonist of Black Panther, cousin to Chadwick Boseman’s protagonist King T’Challa and a comic-book villain so transcendent that he is almost out of place in a film about a superhero who dresses as a cat. Black Panther is about a highly advanced African kingdom, yes, but its core theme is Pan-Africanism, a belief that no matter how seemingly distant black people’s lives and struggles are from each other, we are in a sense “cousins” who bear a responsibility to help one another escape oppression. And so the director Ryan Coogler asks, if an African superpower like Wakanda existed, with all its power, its monopoly on the invaluable sci-fi metal vibranium, and its advanced technology, how could it have remained silent, remained still, as millions of Africans were devoured by The Void?
“Two billion people all over the world who look like us whose lives are much harder, and Wakanda has the tools to liberate them all,” Killmonger scolds the Wakandan court. “Where was Wakanda?”
But Killmonger has some points. Where was Wakanda when many of their African brothers and sisters were being captured and sold into slavery through the Atlantic slave trade? Where was Wakanda when other African countries were left improvised, stricken with war or being colonized? Where was Wakanda during America's Jim Crow and Civil Rights Movement era?
With the trajectory of systemic racism, oppression and pain that black people in America and around the world have had to endure Shadow And Act's Brooke Obie writes Killmonger isn't wrong for his approach. It's pretty understandable.
Yes, his desperation for revenge has twisted him into a man who loves to kill—hence the name—and who covers his entire body with self-inflicted battle scars for each person he’s ever murdered. And his constant state of rage manifests in bloody action. But it’s the root of his rage that Coogler so deftly explores in Black Panther.
Killmonger’s pain, abandonment and generational trauma touch on the rawest parts of being African American. Sure, the imprint of the continent our ancestors hailed from is embedded in our gums, but our AncestryDNA results don’t exactly lead us into the open arms of our ancestral cousins. We are a homeless people, not welcomed anywhere. If Wakanda is the Black Promised Land, then we are its forgotten children, sold away, left behind, rejected, condescended to.
Swirling in constant reminders of worthlessness, of the specific anti-Black-American toxicity experienced by Black folk in the U.S.A., Killmonger is angry—not just at white supremacist oppressors or systemic racism, but also the Black Elite who left him behind. And he has every right to want vengeance.
Progressive Army's Benjamin Dixon writes "Black Panther" craps on revolutionaries and radical politics. A black American male is a villain for wanting to free his people. Dixon points out that the original comic book character was created by white men and the character's goal was to take over the world, not black liberation.
While many didn't agree with Killmonger's choice to kill in the name of black liberation, many criticized the film for making a black revolutionary the villain to begin with.
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.
The Root's Jason Johnson writes that, yes, Killmonger wants the oppressed to be free, but his approach isn't actually revolutionary. Killmonger set out to kill those in power. Michael B. Jordan's character says he's learned from his enemies and oppressors, and but opts for a similar approach to his actions.
He could've been a revolutionary who got Wakanda on his side without bloodshed. Heck, T'Challa eventually agrees with him on opening up Wakanda's resources to those in needs as well as the nation helping their people around the globe who are marginalized. But T'Challa does not agree with Wakanda taking aggressive military action or conquering the world in order to benefit the lives of black people.
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.
But let's be real here—Killmonger was all about black liberation at the expense of black women. Plus, he killed his own people who he claimed to be all about. Bossip listed the many ways Killmonger was problematic.
'1. He shot his girlfriend in the head to get her out of the way so he could kill a white man. Which, c’mon, the symbolism there is really what this whole article is about, right?
2. He defeated T’Challa in ritual combat. Okay, fine. He won fair and square (after giving a monologue about the people from black and brown countries he’s killed along the way).
3. He choked an elder black woman because she didn’t want to burn down all the remaining heart-shaped herbs. Which, by the way, if he were really about liberating all of his people instead of just himself, why wouldn’t he send a few heart-shaped herbs to some of the spies in countries across the world? Namely countries that have Captain Americas running around?4. He killed a member of the Dora Milaje, slicing her throat when mere incapacitation was enough. Two minutes later he cut Nakia in the leg and then tried to kill Shuri before T’Challa stopped him.