An American Monster in Wakanda
Here there be spoilers.
When I went to see Black Panther, I didn’t think it would make me sad. I didn’t think I’d dislike Wakanda for its fictional role in world events. I should be able to divorce reality from fiction, and yet, the narrative hit so close to home that I found myself weighted by it, almost to the point of tears. Knowing the horrors my ancestors survived that led to my existence…and I’d gladly never live if it meant none of that ever happened.
I didn’t expect to walk away imagining a world where the transatlantic slave trade never happened and resenting the fuck out of Wakanda because it did.
I didn’t expect to mourn Erik Killmonger, the villain who wasn’t MY villain. He was my hero. He was the me I wish I could be – the brutal, ruthless freedom fighter who built himself from nothing to free Black people from the colonizers. He was the hero I needed, not Black Panther, and that was a realization I was not expecting.
After the movie, I left the theater to the chants of “Wakanda Forever,” feeling unsettled and displaced. If Wakanda were a real place, I’d be Erik; I’d be the American monster in Wakanda because I couldn’t love a country with the means to end the transatlantic slave trade that instead chose to hide and pretend it wasn’t their problem. A nation that only fights when absolutely necessary and did not think the kidnapping, torture, murder, rape, abuse, dehumanization, and destruction of millions of people made war absolutely necessary. A nation with superior education, technology, creativity, and the financial ability to help that instead turned its collective back on those who lived outside its borders. Black people, like them. Because they were not Wakandan.
I came out the theater angry at Wakanda.
I know it’s not a real place. I KNOW it’s not real. It’s a fantasy so flawed when aligned with the history of my family, my people…To watch a narrative where the person with the power to change the world opted to murder his brother and desert his nephew to the poverty and oppression faced by so many Black people, all to maintain their separatist, non-interference policy. All the while, spying and learning the atrocities endured by millions and doing nothing to stop it.
It’s a hard pill to swallow.
And Erik, a man who learned the savagery of his oppressors and became a better monster than them, completely willing to sacrifice everything to change the fate of millions…while Wakanda watched and claimed that letting Black people suffer was the greater good.
Nakia knew it wasn’t enough, which was why she could not stay. Would not stay and in the end, should not stay. Wakanda was complicit in the genocide of millions while looking at those suffering not with compassion, but with dismissal. Wakanda Forever really meant Wakanda first and only. Ignoring genocide doesn’t exempt you from responsibility.
Watching the council uphold their traditions that worked inside their bubble while sacrificing everyone outside of it. I watched the judgement and disdain they had for Erik, a man who beat them using their own rules. He was ruthless because he had to be. He was merciless because to take power, mercy has no place. And apparently mercy has no place to keep power, as demonstrated by T’Chaka and his brother.
I could not love Wakanda. And, after learning more of its history, neither could T’Challa.
And I get it. If Wakanda was the marvel it is written to be, how could the transatlantic slave trade happen without interference? And the years after…how could that magnitude of suffering be acceptable? And thinking about that, which the movie introduced immediately, left me with a bitterness I didn’t expect because the reality is that in my heart, I am Erik Killmonger and I wanted to force Wakanda to take a stand to help more than themselves.
Watching Black Panther, I had to accept that I would be an american monster in Wakanda. And like him, I’d want to burn it all down if it meant improving the world for Black people.
In the end, I still didn’t love Wakanda and maybe I never will.
For those wondering, I did enjoy the movie. It was very watchable. In fact, I've already seen it twice and intend to see it a third time. It just makes me sad, because it keeps me wishing for a past that can never happen.