Erik Killmonger: Constructing the Perfect Antagonist

As the popular statement goes, the hero is as good as his nemesis, this applies to multiple superhero films; however, Black Panther accomplishes this feat on a profound level. Presenting Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger as the main antagonist to Chadwick Boseman’s protagonist King T’Challa, the film offers one of the most insightful, complex, and empathetic nemesis of the genre. Through Killmonger, Ryan Coogler, the director, presents a villain that fully challenges the protagonist both ideologically and physically, in turn, molding the hero. Killmonger as a perfect antagonist manages to unravel and attack the hero’s greatest flaws. As a victim of circumstance, his ideologies are deeply influenced by his background as opposed to the T’Challa whose upbringing was sheltered from systemic oppression. Henceforth, T’Challa’s final resolve is heavily impacted by the physical and philosophical confrontations with his nemesis. Furthermore, to construct the ultimate conflict, both parties have to compete for the same objective but possess different values and viewpoints. Demonstrated perfectly through Killmonger’s resolution to make Wakanda superlative by overtly liberating all black people, who he considers his own, whilst T’Challa aims to protect his own by maintaining Wakanda’s safety and anonymity. Black Panther effectively constructs the ultimate antagonist, as an insightful and empathetic foil character to the protagonist who remarkably challenges his greatest weaknesses having a profound effect on the hero.

Killmonger as the ultimate villain effectively challenges the King’s greatest flaw, his incapability to yet protect Wakanda from unforeseen adversaries, subsequently influencing his newfound worthiness and strength by the close. Truby states that “Create an opponent…who is exceptionally good at attacking your hero’s greatest weakness” (2008). T’Challa as the new King of Wakanda has yet to confront difficult choices as a king before the arrival of Erik Killmonger. In the match for the throne within the tribe, T’Challa is victorious but he is yet to confront external adversaries to protect his worthiness. Killmonger’s introduction as a victim of systemic oppression and harsh realities of war illustrates a new adversary who will unravel the Black Panther’s unworthiness. Physically, Killmonger defeats T’Challa in the presence of his people, dishonoring him and expressing his inability to lead the kingdom. As he asserts to the people, “Is this your King?” (Coogler, 2018), discrediting his place as the leader. As previously showcased in trance, T’Challa expresses to his father that he feels uncertain about his worthiness for the throne. Henceforth, the doubt of his inability as his greatest weakness is unraveled by the villain in plain sight. Ideologically, Killmonger asserts the need for the powerful nation of black people, Wakanda, to take responsibility for the liberation of all black people. A point of view that is easily acknowledged by several leaders in Wakanda, with the whole Border tribe in support of this ideology. Brought down by Killmonger to his supposed death, the hero rises up much improved and worthy. Generally, the perfect antagonist villain illuminates his own strengths over the hero highlighting the protagonist’s weaknesses, subsequently constructing a better hero with a stronger resolve.

Killmonger’s agenda is not stereotypically nonsensical rather competes directly with T’Challa’s objective of the perfect vision for Wakanda. In assertion “It is only by competing for the same goal that the hero and the opponent are forced to come into direct conflict and to do so again and again throughout the story” (Truby, 2008). Killmonger and T’Challa’s goals are not extremely different, as opposed stereotypical dynamic between adversaries in films; rather they possess the same vision of strengthening Wakanda. The difference occurs in their executions. Killmonger asserts “The world’s gonna start over, and this time we’re on top. The sun will never set on the Wakandan Empire” (Coogler, 2018). As a victim of white oppression, Killmonger chooses to execute a radical and imperialistic approach of expansionism to secure the wellbeing of Wakanda and black people. On the other hand, T’Challa growing up in the confines of Wakanda’s fortifications prefers to maintain anonymity and conduct covert operations for the liberation of victims of systemic oppression. Killmonger’s goals secure him as more of a radical hero than a villain, which further conveys him as a complex and also empathetic antagonist.

Killmonger is an empathetic villain, as the audience and also the protagonist understands his rage and agenda despite his radicalized ideologies. His objective is greatly influenced by his upbringing in a society that oppresses people of his own kind. Killmonger is a victim of racism and racial prejudice; moreover, his own family abandoned him and killed his father. The pain of his history and his mercenary experiences in warfare mold him into the radical villain, spiteful over the negligence of Wakanda in liberating their kind. As he asserts “Two billion people all over the world who look like us whose lives are much harder, and Wakanda has the tools to liberate them… Where was Wakanda?” (Coogler, 2018). Even T’Challa sees the fault in Wakanda as he confronts the manifestation of former Wakandan leaders and scolds their deeds. After Killmonger’s death, the protagonist is heavily impacted by his ideologies, that he executes them in a more diplomatic approach. An antagonist has to be complex and empathetic for them to profoundly impact the hero’s final resolve.

Ran Coogler’s Black Panther effectively constructs an insightful, complex, and empathetic villain for the protagonist who remarkably challenges his greatest weaknesses and exerts a profound effect. As the protagonist can only be intellectually fascinating and emotionally enthralling as the forces of antagonism make them. Killmonger effectually challenges the hero’s flaws molding him to the worthy hero both philosophically and physically. Contrary to the ‘desire for hegemony’ interpretation for super villains, Killmonger subverts this assumption by conveying perceptive arguments and logical agenda. The film puts an emphasis on constructing a character the audience can empathize with and understand their point of view. Killmonger is a victim of the system and his reaction to the oppression comes off as valid contrary to the stereotypical villainous resolutions.

Works CitedCoogler, R. (Director). (2018). Black Panther [Motion Picture].

Truby, J. (2008). The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Retrieved May 12, 2018

Black Panther: T’Challa is More than a Superhero

A hero is made up of many traits. His/her strength, character and intelligence among so much more. It is often said in superhero films that, “with great power comes great responsibility.” This saying can be interpreted in many ways. A lot of characters that eventually become superheroes mostly do so because they feel a sense of responsibility towards humanity. Spiderman (or Peter Parker) for instance becomes a superhero because of the loss of his uncle, and he partly feels responsible because he could’ve prevented it. Ironman (or Tony Stark) becomes a superhero because he feels responsible for the deaths caused by the weapons he manufactured. These characters were not initially selfless and hero-minded. They were selfish and self-centered people. A tragedy in their life made them want to help others.

In the superhero film Black Panther by Ryan Coogler, T’Challa is the son of a king and next in line to the throne. His entire life, he has been instilled with knowledge, strength, and duty to become the king and guardian to Wakanda as Black Panther. T’Challa becomes king after his father’s death. He’s sworn to protect the people of Wakanda. As the superhero Black Panther, he is not in conflict with himself about his past, and he’s not in search of any atonement like most heroes. Many superheroes are driven by the choice to do good and maintain peace wherever they go because they feel a sense of guilt for their past. Their actions despite noble could be argued are to make up for their mistakes in the past. T’Challa is different on that end as well. He’s a good person who believes in doing the right thing. As the guardian to Wakanda, he protects and serves as its leader. He is not doing good because he feels like he has to atone. He is genuinely a hero to his people.

In the film, when the main antagonist (Killmonger) arrives in Wakanda to challenge the protagonist for the throne. T’Challa does not hesitate to accept the challenge because asking it is his duty to be the first line of defense against any threat to his people. When he is faced with the dilemma of whether to protect the entire world or Wakanda, he chooses Wakanda because his people depend on him to safeguard them. By the end of the film, though the antagonist has challenged his ideologies on how to rule Wakanda, he is still has a duty to protect his people first. T’Challa is not just a hero because he does not protect out of responsibility or guilt but by the sheer will and duty to his people. As T’Challa is faced with the moral dilemma that all superheroes are faced with, his outweighs each and every one else’s. T’Challa is conflicted about how his father ruled. The mistakes are not his to bear. He has no guilt whatsoever, but he does feel a sense of responsibility to do better than his predecessors.

T’Challa has three versions of himself: he is king, Black Panther and a man. All these parts of him come into play every time he has a tough decision to make. When he becomes King, his first order of business is to subdue an old Wakandan enemy to safeguard his legacy and that of his predecessors. He wants to prove that no challenge is too tough for him. When he is challenged by M’Baku (Winston Duke) for the throne, he has the right to kill him and subdue his enemy, but he cannot bring himself to kill M’Baku, so he spares him. This works out in his favor when M’ Baku saves him from death. His good deeds turned out to help him in times of need. When he decides to reach out to the rest of the world and share Wakanda’s technology, he sees the wrong his predecessors did and wants to enrich and improve the lives of the people of color outside Wakanda. He’s a sympathetic and efficient leader.

The man behind the titular Black Panther is a King of a nation, and sometimes he will have to do things that will prove to be morally challenging. As his father tells him, “You are a good man, with a good heart, but it’s hard for a good man to be king” (Coogler, 2018). A superhero has a self-given responsibility to anyone and everyone who needs help. As a king, he has to put his people first and sometimes it will come at the cost of putting other people in harm’s way. This might prove to be an impossible choice for T’Challa because he has goodness in his heart. As long as the interest of the world aligns with Wakanda, he’s at peace to rule. The real challenge might come when he has to choose between his people or the rest of the world and that will be his undoing. In the film, he is yet to be faced with this challenge.

References

Coogler, R. (Director). (2018). Black Panther [Motion Picture]. Marvel Studios,