By Marlena Little
I’ve been in love with Black Panther since before I can remember, waaay before this weekend! Believe it or not, I’m a comic book nerd.
I was first introduced to comics as a third grader attending a predominantly-white “gifted center/school”where children from all over the Chicago-land area were taught. It was nothing to see all my classmates, girls and boys, reading and exchanging comics over lunch, recess, and every other social time in between.
When you are identified as “gifted” and an exceptional learner, it’s easier to find solace in the pages of comic books with superheroes who had super powers and super intellect. I wasn’t readingThe Baby-Sitters Club series or a Nicholas Sparks novel;I was reading Black Panther.
Naturally, I was in love with King T’Challa. Yes, King T’Challa is Black Panther, but the man behind the mask was who my pre-teen self admired.
If you didn’t know…
1. T’Challa is a genius! He smarter than Tony Sparks any day. He studied at Oxford University and, obtained a PhD in physics. Although wealthy, he didn’t buy his intellect.
2. The title of “Black Panther” is a hereditary right of the King of Wakanda, a protector of both the land and its resources. It isn’t a title that one can just choose to become because of a suit (i.e. Batman).
3. King T’Challa has more wealth than any other superhero in the Marvel Universe at $90 trillion. Frankly, the net worth of Wakanda’s resources would be worth more than the GDP of our current, real world.
As ae pre-teen, adolescent and young lady, I loved T’Challa.
But Friday night, I fell in love with Killmonger.
I’m in love with another man.
Before Friday, I loved what Black Panther represented to me. Education. Intellect. Strength. Unity. Pride. T’Challa is the epitome of “Black Excellence,” from his pride in his country, his tribe, to the ways in which he chooses to serve and protect his people. He understands the detriment of colonization and protects his people at any cost. Hiding “in plain sight” is how he’s survived.
He effortlessly demonstrates my motto – Real G’s move in silence.
But as a woman, I have fallen in love with Erik Killmonger.
In Marvel Universe, Erik’s parents are killed by Klaw, who then takes him captive. Erik escapes to the United States and despite not having a family, let alone a father to be his living example, graduated from MIT. What he doesn’t have in wealth, he has in passion.
Black Panther movie director Ryan Coogler amended this part of the story to provide us with a juxtaposition of T’Challa. Erik is a man who is equally intelligent, equally passionate and equally instinctive – with a completely different foundation. Where T’Challa represents Black Excellence at its finest, one could describe Killmonger as the antithesis.
And if you did so, you’d be sadly mistaken. Erik is completely misunderstood if he is seen as the “Angry Black Man.” He knows from whence he came and who he is. He carries his birthright, hidden in plain sight - literally and figuratively, he is connected to Wakanda. He carries this, knowing he can neither return to Wakanda nor fight against it.
His scars are not ritualistic, yet they resemble those of his people. He dons a reminder of those he has killed, self-mutilating not as a badge of honor, but as a necessity – a means to an end. He seeks revenge for his father, which means destroying a piece of who he is. He recognizes the struggle of the oppressed and is furious that his family has not only abandoned him, but also the people who look just like him.
Erik is not evil or full of hate. He is what we could call “woke.”
As a girl, I needed T’Challa in my life. I loved T’Challa’s mind and his vision. I relied on his pride and emulated that for myself, being in a world that didn’t look like me. During the day, I went to school with my head held high knowing I belonged among my white counterparts. After school, I returned to my “hood.”
Yet, as a woman, I can no longer be comfortable with simply getting the education and preserving my legacy. I need to help my people who don’t have, give them tools to not just succeed, but fight back. I sometimes tell my students to channel their anger - be angry enough to make a change, be angry enough to use all your time getting the education you deserve that hasn’t been given to you. Be angry enough to go against your people who aren’t doing what they can.
I almost jumped out of my seat at the end of the movie where we see T’Challa and Erik sharing a moment after Erik’s defeat. T’Challa offers Erik restoration, a sort of restorative justice, to which Erik responds,
“Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage…”
There is no life in bondage – whether by those who look like you or those who do not. While we all may go to the movies, showing pride in our heritage, and #doitfortheculture, let’s ensure that when this movie is done, we are as enthusiastic about honoring our culture and legacy through empowerment, education, and access.
Let’s make sure that more stories are told, more images are seen, not just on the big-screen, but in our living rooms, on the streets, in our classrooms – everywhere. I challenge us all to embrace a bit of Killmonger in our lives, not just T’Challabecause both are representations of who we are.
Because I need to put away my childish things, I must say: I used to be in love with T’Challa, but I’m a woman now and I need me some Killmonger.