It’s 2:09 AM, the Friday Black Panther has premiered. I’m sitting on my couch watching Kendrick Lamar’s “All The Stars” music video on repeat, in the afterglow of spending the better part of my office hours for Play Your Way Network trying to hustle up tickets for tonight’s showing in Atlanta – a task that would prove impossible at this point to take a group. Luckily, I went alone last night (Thursday) to an early premiere showing.
The reason I need to see it again is because in seeing this Marvel Studios stand-alone, I got more than I paid for, and I want to get back to that feeling of seeing me on-screen again – who am I?
I am Erik Killmonger…
Perhaps I should be more specific as from the title, I got your attention. So you, like I got in the Ryan Coogler directed Black Panther, deserve payoff despite me burying my lede. So here we go:
How is Killmonger even comparable to Ledger’s Joker?
Because it’s the first time we’ve seen an allegory for an audience I believe has not yet been touched in a comic adaptation. Ryan Coogler finally accomplished what he set out to do in Fruitvale Station, give voice to the pain of the African-American experience of being cut off from your ancestry, yet in a world of progress and advantage still lacking the ability to reconnect for being seen by both your motherland and nation of birth as an outside; an unintentional nomad, tired of desperately pleading for acceptance a ready to take their destiny into their own hands. This is Erik Killmonger.
In case you haven’t seen the film yet, I still got you covered. Observe the video below:
Once you listen to this song (as well as others from the BP soundtrack) it’s obvious that Kendrick too felt the connection, that when seeing Black Panther, he identified most with Killmonger (in fact in one song on the album he exclaims “I am Killmonger!”). The visual for “All the Stars” shows Lamar on a pilgrimage across the sea to Africa.
Upon arrival, like Erik, he’s looked down upon by the matriarch in the video (played by the same actress as the Lieutenant of Wakanda); while also being looked at as a stranger by the children, the descendants of the village who have no idea who he is. Kendrick, eventually sits as a leader among the men in the video and breaks the fourth wall speaking to an unknown figure who is apparently “entitled” and he clearly “don’t like.” The parallels continue through the video even going as far as having him walk among a pride of black panthers as the leader for a period of time and later as his manner of dress and stature never quite fit his new environment despite being in awe of the beauty all around him.
This visual, just as Coogler’s vision made flesh via Michael B. Jordan’s authenticity from the point of view of a man who had his lineage almost erased from existence, is particularly resonating and at times even uncomfortably on the nose. We see Killmonger moving about as an almost anti-hero with both legitimate claim to his birthright and the hatred against his oppressors long dead.
His reasoning, his plight and his resolve all intertwine in a performance that one can only hope hits its mark with audiences who don’t have the same humble beginnings as a young man from the west coast (a theme of all Coogler’s box office smashes to date) who had to pull himself by his own bootstraps with only his ambition and love for a family they’ve never truly known.
In the end Coogler’s cautionary tale (without spoiling anything) ends with advice to people of color in the audience who seek either vengeance or some semblance of justice (just as Erik did) in a world that just wants to forget its sins and among a generation that had nothing to do with said sins of their father and beg us to find a way to move on. Likewise, Kendrick (via direction of Dave Meyers) begs us to seek the beauty of our ancestry as salve for the pain that diminishes our potential in the presence of source of our truest potential.
If given the opportunity to seize everything we ever wanted, will we succumb to the pain of the wounds in our hearts at the dawning of the most beautiful horizon we’ve ever seen, or will we allow our history to teach us a better way forward?
If I lost you along the way, go watch the movie lol and come back. I’m sure you’ll pick up on the nuance. It’s all there in Black Panther, a mere “comic book movie” and for the first time as a black man I feel like Hollywood sees us. (Blade, Django and Get Out were good movies, but they missed the mark in finding the same soul resonance).
We, the descendants of the people who served the colonists are finally given Erik Killmonger…
…And then we’re shown a better way in the form of T’Challa. A black Batman vs Superman finally right there on the silver screen. Damn…I gotta see this movie again.
Heath Ledger was a force…but Erik Killmonger is an undeniable hero turned upside down, (black Bruce Wayne) and that’s real.