Sunday, February 18, 2018

Erik Killmonger -- the Angry Love Letter from Diasporan Blacks to Africans

Quote by Erik Killmonger

Will try not to spoil this for anyone, but I recently returned from seeing the Black Panther. Have some thoughts. Good film as a whole, entertaining and worldly. But, I am focusing here on the character of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

 Jordan's getting praise for his performance as Erik Killmonger, the usurper of Wakanda. Killmonger--the real villain of the film--first appears in a British museum scene, wherein he views various African artifacts and questions their origin and how they got to the museum.

After the Killmonger confronts Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), his partner in crime, and infamous terrorist of Wakanda, we learn the truth about his origin.  Killmonger is a former U.S. Marine, known for political destabilization efforts in many countries. Killmonger has a bone to pick with Wakanda. In a flashback scene that ties into the opening scene in the film, featuring Prince N'jobu (Sterling K. Brown), we learn that Eric is the son of Prince N'jobu with an American woman.

Killmonger, the long lost "Prince" of Wakanda, is angry and deep into a vengeance mission to get home--the home he never knew and was cheated out of (won't say by whom).  What I want to say about Killmonger is this. For all the attention Black Panther gets for being a love letter to Africa, and its possibilities and bright future, Killmonger's role is a bit more subversive. In particular, Killmonger is an angry love letter. He is the bastard child returning to the parents that failed and neglected him.
In this case, Killmonger represents the African Diaspora, and Wakanda is Africa.

When Killmonger first meets King T'Challa, and Wakanda's leaders, he says to him (in summary): "where were you when your people were being chained and enslaved?" "Where were you?" "You had all this technology and resources and you did nothing to stop slavery."

 King T'Challa's response to Killmonger (as was his father's and the rest of Wakanda's rulers) is that Killmonger, and non-Wakandan blacks alike, are not his people. He, T'Challa, is only the king of Wakanda, not the king of all black peoples, and feels no obligation to reach out to, or help non-Wakandans (later, he changes his mind about reaching out to impoverished black Americans).

Killmonger's attitude and T'Challa's/Wakanda's response highlight the complex relationship that many of the African Diaspora (American and Caribbean blacks) feel toward Africa/Africans.  Diasporan Africans feel detached and yet loyal to Africa. We are African, without being African (500 plus years removed). Many African Americans racialize Africa--treating it as a single cultural/racial bloc. However, Africans are compartmentalized into their ethno-cultural groups. This leaves little room for many Diasporan Africans to fit into the African tapestry.

When Killmonger shows up at Wakanda's border, bearing the markings of its long lost son, it was Diasporan Africans confronting their long lost roots/returning home. Killmonger mockingly calls Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Auntie, pointing out the connection the Wakandans would rather forget (Queen Ramonda and the Dora Milaje refer to him as a stranger/outsider). Killmonger wants Wakanda to compensate for its [lack of] intervention in the slave trade, by using its technology and weapons to foster insurgencies globally. He wants to empower/free oppressed peoples--he tells T'Challa that "two billion people who look like me are oppressed all over the world, and where is Wakanda?" In the end, he does not get his way--it's not the Wakandan way.

 T'Challa sees Erik as a man in the wrong as much as a man wronged.  T'Challa takes Erik, breathing his last breath, to see the Wakandan sunset Prince N'Jobu (Erik's father) had promised to show him but never got a chance to do. Prince N'Jobu, sympathetic to the plight of Diasporan blacks, was killed before he got a chance to carry out his mission of helping them. Once again, Wakanda failed to use its resources for the cause of Pan-Africanism (cultural outreach, as it's called in the film).

 When T'Challa confronts his own father, T'Chaka, he agrees that Erik was a monster of Wakanda's own making.  Later, T'Challa creates a cultural outreach center in Oakland, California, where N'Jobu was killed, and Erik was raised, fatherless and "lost."  This act represents Wakanda (Africa) taking responsibility for its roles in the troubled history and lives of Diasporan blacks. Many Diasporan blacks are fully aware that Africans began selling their own people, which was later exploited by Arabs and Europeans via the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The film ends with little African American children gathering around the Wakandan futuristic-looking aircraft in awe (it's in Oakland, California), and one little boy, who could've been Erik Killmonger, asking T'Challa, "who are you?" On this note, it is sort of a unification between Africans and Diasporan blacks. T'Challa decides to do what his father did not--reach out to African Americans.