Chadwick Boseman says T’Challa is the enemy in Black Panther

Major spoilers ahead for Black Panther.

Cultural critics have had a lot to say about how Black Panther’s Erik Killmonger is a sympathetic villain, and how black viewers can identify with his point of view. He’s a casual murderer with a lengthy kill list literally carved into his own body, but Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) isn’t just fighting for personal reasons. He’s avenging his father and his lost childhood, but he identifies with other black people who’ve grown up in poverty, and he wants to use Wakanda’s advanced technology to liberate people of color who’ve been oppressed by Western imperialism. His goals have real political weight, and they’re more interesting than those of a lot of superhero-movie villains, who are often motivated more by that generic, vague standby sentiment, “I am evil and I want to destroy the world.”

There have been media takes discussing how Black Panther protagonist T’Challa sends a bleak message to black viewers by killing his rival. The message, some critics say, is that black liberation is only a dream, and only obedient, peaceful folks can expect tolerance and survival. In this reading of the film, that makes T’Challa the enemy. And Chadwick Boseman, the actor who plays T’Challa, agrees.

“I actually am the enemy,” he says during a discussion with castmate Lupita Nyong’o and Marvel comics writer and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates at Harlem’s Apollo Theater on Tuesday. (The comments were transcribed and reported by The Atlantic and Rolling Stone.) “It’s the enemy I’ve always known. It’s power. It’s having privilege.” He characterizes T’Challa as “born with a vibranium spoon in my mouth.”

This reading of T’Challa as born into a higher caste, while Killmonger and his father are considered outsiders, is significant. Killmonger and his father N’Jobu (played with an eye-watering performance from Sterling K. Brown), are essentially shut out from Wakanda’s Afrofuturistic utopia because they want to share it and extend its freedoms to other people of color around the globe, instead of hiding the country’s prosperity from the world.

Boseman, who hails from South Carolina and graduated from Howard University, says that like Killmonger, he’s felt the same sense of not fully connecting with African culture and history. He had to search for his own heritage like Killmonger did, and going to Africa for the film had been a chance for him to “reconnect to what I lost.”

Boseman also says Killmonger has elements drawn from Ryan Coogler’s personality. The writer-director researched the film in part by traveling to London to visit African museum exhibits, just as Killmonger does in his first scene in the film.

In the scene, Killmonger strolls into an African museum exhibit, poisons a museum guide, and steals back a Wakandan treasure, declaring, “Don’t trip. Imma take it off your hands for you.” When the guide says severely, “These items are not for sale,” he responds, to audience cheers during the initial French premiere, “How do you think your ancestors got these? You think they paid a fair price for it? Or did they take them like they took everything else?”

The scene plays more like a heroic heist than a theft, and it would have been, if the film wasn’t based in such a good-and-evil-focused comic book world. To many commenters, the sides in Black Panther aren’t so clear cut. Both Killmonger and T’Challa are simultaneously heroes and villains. But Boseman’s acknowledgement that he sympathizes more with his character’s adversary is still a startling admission for a leading man in a superhero movie.

“I don’t know if we as African-Americans would accept T’Challa as our hero if he didn’t go through Killmonger,” he says at the event. “Because Killmonger has been through our struggle, and [T’Challa hasn’t].”

Nyong’o and Coates also speak about the representation and the complicated politics Black Panther tackles, according to Rolling Stone. Nyong’o says the film’s main characters paint a picture of Africans and African-Americans together as a family, in a way that feels “healing.”

Nyong’o, who identifies as Kenyan-Mexican, grew up listening to The Sound of Music and watching Elizabeth Taylor on screen. “We, too, have been plagued with these unfortunate images that diminish us and paint us as only needy,” she says, describing Africans’ experience with their representation.

Coates, who has written Black Panther comics and his own spinoffs, agrees, saying, “I didn’t realize how much I needed the film, a hunger for a myth that [addressed] feeling separated and feeling reconnected” to the African continent.

Comments

The message, some critics say, is that black liberation is only a dream, and only obedient, peaceful folks can expect tolerance and survival.

Or that the ends don’t justify the means
Or that revenge and becoming the monster you’re fighting is not a virtue
Or that good and decent peaceful human beings are who we should strive to be without expectations.

Literally Nakia was achieving the same goals that Killmonger wanted but without plunging the world into world war 3.

That’s why killmonger had to die, but he was the one that actually forced Black Panther’s hand.

Killmonger is what happens if people like T’Challa accept their privilege and realizing that they need to use that power to make the world better. If power isn’t used to help others, people like Killmonger will always have the compelling argument to destroy the roots of power.

And while those ‘or’ comments are important, they don’t diminish or replace the one from the article. Each reader brings their own perspective to every film they see. Their life, their experiences, give them a personal, unique perspective. For each person that reading is valid, though hearing the readings from others may alter their own interpretation.

It seems like a stretch to say that T’Challa is the enemy. In the quote I can see what he is saying, but from the moment he took power it seemed like he was leaning in the direction of expanding Wakanda’s reach, with the only question being how far that would go. He quickly began to realize the wrongs his father and others had committed and desires to seem them put right.

If he had been given a bit more time to act, it seems likely he would have taken steps in that direction. He led a protected and sheltered life, but it is difficult to fault someone who barely has the chance to do anything (right or wrong) before being nearly killed and usurped. Frustratingly, I would say that T’Challa actually has too little agency in this movie to really strongly consider the morality of his actions.

But his solution to helping people elsewhere is buying low income housing in Oakland, Possibly displacing the residents and essentially making a tech outreach center. Hardly a strong stance against oppression.

It was a condemned building.

You mean the buildings that were going to be demolished? How is it bad that he turned them into outreach centers to help those people? I find that most complaints about the movie are addressed in it.

As SonOfAVondruke already stated the building he bought was scheduled for demolition and if there was displacement of the local citizens it likely happened over a decade ago.

Speaking of which, there’s almost every chance that that building as well as most of the property in that neighborhood is owned by corporations run by greedy White men that likely have no interest in using their investment for the betterment of the locals but instead covert it into high-priced condos, a lavish hotel/resort or an upscale shopping center in order to drive out the Black population (i.e., gentrification).

This is a weird statement to make but it’s amazing that we saw a superhero movie that ended with a Black man buying property for the socioeconomic gains of a Black neighborhood.

usurped

Agree with your post but by their own laws that was the proper process…

I really liked Killmonger as he was a very compelling villain. BUT even his intentions weren’t good as he planned to impose a black supremacist dictature on the world through violence. Heck, he mindlessly slaughtered everyone standing in his way (friend or foe). On the other hand, T’Challa always tries to make the right moral decision and even ends up changing his mind thanks to Killmonger (a very hard and wise thing to do). Furthermore this idea that anyone who’s well-off doesn’t know struggle and is an ennemy not only is false but is terrifyingly dystopian.

I liked killmonger but mainly because of his portrayal not the writing. His character is basically Blackneto but the Michael b.Jordan’s charisma carries it, a lessor actor would have struggled.

Ok, I love the phrase blackneto.

Blackneto is a go. True that Michael B Jordan’s performance was stellar.

I liked the writing too, but as mentioned already I think it has to do with life experiences.

I liked Killmonger too. It’s interestng when te villain has some charisma and a compelling reason to do what he does.
He went great through the movie, until near the end when BP returns and instead of resuming the challenge he starts to wreak havoc and burn bridges with – until then – allies. For a cold and focused character it was very poor writing.

Furthermore this idea that anyone who’s well-off doesn’t know struggle and is an ennemy not only is false but is terrifyingly dystopian.

I think the point is a bit more subtle. It’s not that people who are well-off don’t know struggle; it’s more that people who have not experienced the struggle in question cannot understand it without gaining perspective from someone who has.

I think antagonist is a better word than enemy.

Considering Killmonger wanted to make all white people second class citizens through violence I’m glad he was defeated. I could sympathize that growing up in the environment that he did could have bankrupted his morality but it’s no reason to have a race war. It would have been more interesting if he instead wanted to share the technology to give a leg up to the other African nations to level the playing field against the juggernaught of Western powers.

I don’t think that Killmonger saw his actions as starting a race-war. I think he saw them as finishing one that he did not start.

exactly. and it’s not fiction that’s the sad part.

Love the stark difference in perspective of just being able to look at things from another person’s shoes.

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