According to IMDB, Black Panther has topped box office charts four weeks in a row. Amid its monetary success, Black Panther has received praise from viewers critics and the media for its civil rights victories. The use of a predominantly black cast, focus on Africa and strong black characters has many progressives and activists rejoicing with Black Panther’s success.
Many school districts have identified Black Panther’s social victories as important. WFLA, a Tampa News Network reported that on opening day, Jefferson High School in Tampa, Florida brought 750 students to a local theater where they watched the movie. School’s across the nation, elementary to senior high, had scheduled similar field trips for their students.
The WFLA reporter also gave quotes from many of the teachers, “Everyone has that potential for leadership and [to] have a hero inside of them, in school and outside of school,” said principal Bobby Quinn.
“It was really amazing. It was cool to see a cast that was that diverse,” said Cassie Thomas.
“That you should lead matter [no] what and never stand down,” agreed Lizzie Bilogo Nguema.
And finally, “In past years, Jefferson marched to see the movies Selma, Red Tails, Race and last year, Hidden Figures. Each film is a chance to teach a lesson.”
But does Black Panther deserve this praise?
The movie Black Panther focuses on T’challa (The Black Panther) and his struggle with his cousin Killmonger for the throne of Wakanda. T’challa was born in Wakanda and believes in Wakanda’s ancient isolationism. Wakanda is a country rich in a valuable metal, vibranium, this metal provides them with advanced weaponry and sources of energy. By using this metal Wakanda is able to develop an advanced society, but in fear of their vibranium being stolen by enemies, they hide their civilization and close off from the rest of the world.
Killmonger is of Wakandan blood but was born in Oakland, CA, where his father was a Wakandan spy there. In his time in America, his father lives in the projects where he becomes deeply empathetic to the the black cause. So empathetic that he actually steals vibranium weapons from Wakanda to arm the black masses. As this conspiracy unfolds Killmonger’s father is killed by his brother, T’challa’s father, the current king. Killmonger is then left behind in Oakland to grow up in the projects.
Killmonger wants the throne so he can continue his father’s plan to arm the poor blacks so they can overthrow their oppressors. This fight ultimately ends when Killmonger is stabbed and killed.
Black Panther has been praised for its development of its villain, Killmonger. I, along with many other moviegoers, have been captivated by the relatability of Killmonger. Killmonger’s dream is justice for the oppressed blacks of the world. And as viewers watch they become almost sad for what seems to be a misguided hero. As I first watched the movie I myself wanted to believe Killmonger was a good guy in the wrong movie.
While many viewers saw Killmonger as a radical seeking justice, I found myself looking at Malcolm X and, ironically, the Black Panthers. Malcolm X was an American civil rights leader who advocated for black pride, black defense, and the demand for black justice. In his famous speech The Ballot or the Bullet, Mr. X references an institutional trap set for black people. The Black Panthers were a group of black men who formed armed militias to defend their communities. So when Killmonger spoke with anger towards whites, or oppressors as he says, and spoke of taking up arms I misunderstood Killmonger as a reflection of those heroes.
The night I saw the movie I sat bolted to my chair by my mix of emotions. Killmonger reminded me of my civil rights heroes, but, as many of his critics would point out, he was inherently violent and greedy. He spoke of killing the children of oppressors (white people). Killmonger also celebrated the idea of a massive Wakandan empire and even said, “The sun will never set on the Wakandan empire.” And as these conflicting opinions fought in my head something became clear to me.
Watching Black Panther was hard on me because I watched Killmonger, the only symbol of black justice, die. The only replacement offered was T’challa’s changed character. T’challa by the end of the movie abandons his isolationist policies and becomes what I would term, a black improvementist, or a civil rights advocate focused on how blacks could improve their own condition. T’challa had literally killed Killmonger, and symbolically, black improvement had killed the demand for black justice. This was something which felt wrong to me, but I as a viewer could not mourn Killmonger long, for he was full of many evils.
And this is why I fear Black Panther.
The writers were able to perverse black justice and name it Killmonger. Disney was able to vilify black justice so that when it died we rejoiced. All across America black people rejoice for the “heroes” found in black panther. Children are brought and taught to the script of the movie. Teachers compare it to “Selma, Red Tails, Race and last year, Hidden Figures.”
Amidst the visible social victories, there is no mourning. That scares me. Due to the movie’s few successes, black culture has taken to heart a film, which ultimately oppresses it. As long as Black Panther is a civil rights victory, civil rights must continue without a thirst for justice. Because black justice in our modern culture has been made evil, and black justice in our modern culture has been murdered and replaced by black improvement. So civil rights marches onward with only one leg.