I’m excited to participate in The Great Villain Blogathon for a second time! It is being hosted by: Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy. Click here to read my previous entry about the great villain Hedda Gabler.
I’m not sure that anyone was prepared for the juggernaut that Black Panther would become. Even those of us who had great faith in director Ryan Coogler and high expectations for Marvel, couldn’t fathom how explosive this film would be for audiences around the world. From the introduction to the vibrant country of Wakanda, to the rich culture, ground-breaking technology and larger-than-life characters like M’Baku (Winston Duke), Panther left many moviegoers (myself included) mesmerized.
One character that had many fans talking in particular was T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) adversary Killmonger, brilliantly portrayed by Michael B. Jordan.
I think that Killmonger is the best villain that the MCU has delivered since Loki’s original introduction in the Thor series. He is a highly complex individual with a fascinating background and agenda. What’s more is that it’s rare to see a figure like him depicted in the mainstream media.
Compared to the stately Wakandan ruler T’Challa, Kilmonger is much more radical and unforgiving. From the moment he appears onscreen, it’s clear that he has little regard for those who would get in the way of his violent agenda. We never see a moment where he acts impulsively, every move he makes is calculated and deliberate. He also has a wicked fighting style, no doubt thanks to his extensive training as a Navy Seal and later as a member of a JSOC ghost unit. He rightfully earned the nickname “Killmonger” after all.
As life has repeatedly taught us, people aren’t always clear-cut or “black and white”, which is why a villain like Killmonger is so captivating. It’s extremely easy to look at him and solely see his shortcomings; he is ruthless, homocidal, and borderline delusional. However, he’s also passionate and highly motivated. While I don’t endorse his methods, I believe that he is the product of a very broken system. It’s the pain and darkness of his childhood, along with the disenfranchisement of his community that has turned him into a dark, villainous figure.
In the film’s opening scene, we watch his father N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), a Wakandan spy living in Oakland in the 90’s, plan a jail break. Director and co-writer Coogler confirmed that this was a failed attempt to free Killmonger’s mother from prison. After his father is murdered by T’Chaka (John Kani), he is left an orphan and presumably launched into the system. We can guess how bleak his life must have been.
Born Erik Stevens to a Wakandan father and African-American mother, he grew up feeling caught between two worlds and never truly found a safe space to express himself. He witnessed the fruits of systemic racism and oppression firsthand and became very familiar with the feelings of despair that come from being overlooked and mistreated. It is these feelings that convince him Wakanda can and should be doing more for other nations; their tech can weaponize oppressed people all over the world, enabling them to fight back with deadly force.
Some of the most memorable scenes of Panther are when Erik reveals his true identity to Klaw (Andy Serkis), and then later the Royal Family themselves. Both instances are dramatic, but it’s the latter that is the most emotionally charged. Erik is bold and arrogant, claiming that it’s his birthright to challenge T’Challa for the throne. This is only partially true; while he does have royal blood and even a war-dog tattoo, he is still just an outsider.
As an actor, I think Jordan’s biggest moment occurs when he delivers the oft-quoted line, “Bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.” Those words undoubtedly echo defiance and strength, and in some small way, I would argue even peace. It was a fitting death and a believable one as there is no space where two figures like T’Challa and Killmonger can co-exist with competing ideologies.
The burden Erik carries is tremendously great. Right or wrong, good or bad, he might be the first Marvel villain who gives you some pause as well.
“Bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.”
This post is part of The Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy, Silver Screenings, and Shadows and Satin. Click here to read my previous entry about the great villain Hedda Gabler.