One of the many ways Black Panther has set itself apart from other movies of its genre is in its nuance. We haven’t seen a lot of big-budget superhero blockbusters tackle characters’ inner conflicts and complicated political themes right alongside badass car chases and fight scenes the way Ryan Coogler’s game-changer does. We also haven’t seen many fans argue that a supervillain is sympathetic, but that’s what a lot of Black Panther viewers have been saying. And, as it turns out, star Chadwick Boseman might be one of them.
At a panel about the movie in New York’s Harlem this week, Boseman even went so far as to say he kind of thinks T’Challa — the Black Panther — is actually the bad guy. Boseman’s comments came in the middle of a conversation with fellow panelists Lupita Nyong’o and Black Panther comic book author and The Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates about the bigger picture takeaways of the movie.
Boseman said that he understood the impulse, especially among African-American fans, to see Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in a positive light.
Identifying with Killmonger makes sense to Boseman, he said, because Killmonger’s not out for Black Panther‘s throne just for the power trip. He came from American poverty, and he’s not only avenging his father’s death — he’s trying to use Wakanda’s technological advancements to help other black people who are struggling around the world.
While Killmonger had to fight to make his way to MIT and back into the secret kingdom of Wakanda, T’Challa was born “with a vibranium spoon in [his] mouth,” and he’d rather keep Wakanda’s developments in Wakanda.
A lot has been written about this gray-area dynamic in the movie.
Instead of pitting the two characters against each other in the clear-cut good-versus-evil kind of way, Black Panther opts to explore something deeper. Part of it is examining the complex relationship many African-Americans have with Africa, Boseman said (remember Killmonger’s powerful request to “bury [him] in the ocean with [his] ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage”?). And part of it is wrestling with other kinds of privilege and oppression.
Between its opposing forces, Black Panther finds some seriously thought-provoking questions worth discussing. And we’re all ears.