* SPOILERS AHEAD *
If you go onto Facebook and Twitter right now, you will find people proudly exclaiming #HailKingKillmonger! And I get it, I really do. But I am here to tell you that while I get it, aligning yourself with Killmonger is an exercise in toxicity, and honestly, it’s just not a good look for your overall well-being.
Here’s a litmus test for you. Killmonger is not the hero of Black Panther… Nakia is.
How does that make you feel? Are you worked up and ready to debate? Is your body temperature and internal voice elevated? Are you anything other than calm?
So, you mad, huh? Keep reading.
The way Coogler and Michael B. Jordan depicted Killmonger was hard-hitting and poignant. It exceeded my expectations. The rage that Killmonger displayed is akin to the fire that burns through my veins almost every day. It would be impossible for me to sit in the theater, watch Killmonger defiantly assign himself to death over bondage, and not feel a deep connection. He was the representation of the African-American descended from slavery who had become understandably lost in the PTSD-riddled fog of systemic and overt racism.
Even if you are a black person living in the US who is not a descendant from African slaves, I am sure the connection was still profound to say the least.
All of my interactions with racist cops, judges, teachers, alleged friends, and more just ran through me as my eyes were transfixed on Killmonger—it left me wide open.
So, let me be clear. I get it. When he died and shouted how he wanted to be buried in the ocean with his ancestors that jumped from ships because death was better than bondage, I pounded my chest with a clinched fist in solidarity. I even shed a got damn tear.
But, that doesn’t mean Killmonger was right.
I’m a descendant of African slaves who did not jump from ships. I’m a descendant of a runaway slave who fought in the Civil War, made it out alive, and bought land for his family which some of us still occupy to this day. I will not ignore the need for black liberation, but I am also not going to reach back and throw shade at my ancestors who dealt with all of the vile hatred this country threw at them, yet persisted and thrived. Naw, bruh. Not today.
Killmonger embraced an ideology which could be described as black liberation through neo-colonialism. He wanted to violently overthrow governments and kill whoever necessary to achieve his goal. He wanted more than liberation, he wanted world domination, he wanted blood and death. And honestly, his drive was more selfish than “for the culture.”
Now, there is an element to this which is on point. Killmonger had grown angry at T’Chaka’s own flavor of Trumpian isolationism, nationalism, and protectionism while the diaspora suffered. T’Chaka was a fixed point that continued the philosophy which had ruled Wakanda for generations. If it wasn’t for Killmonger, T’Challa would have never seen the error in the ways of the past, and therefore probably would have never changed.
But, Killmonger was not the first to demonstrate this philosophical flaw to T’Challa—Nakia was. The movie begins with her liberating black lives. She continually tried to explain this to T’Challa, but while Wakanda is closer to being an egalitarian society compared to what we know here in the US, it is still steeped in patriarchy and T’Challa ignored Nakia’s pleadings and warnings because he thought she was cute.
Nakia willfully left her confines of luxury in Wakanda to free black bodies in bondage. And she was doing it without a campaign of scorched earth and colonization. She was a character who understood that the totality in the cliché saying “With great power comes great responsibility.” Which is basically the driving theme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She is the Professor X to Killmonger’s Magneto.
We love Killmonger. We are Killmonger (too an extent). But we should not allow ourselves to become Killmonger. He was a wounded man who masked his emotional fragility with superior physical and mental capabilities and an unquenchable thirst for power. As we push to remove the stigma of addressing mental health issues within the diaspora, we must recognize a person who needs help when we see it.
Pain recognizes pain, and Killmonger is lookin’ real familiar.
And Nakia is lookin’ like she’s the one.