I recently saw Black Panther  and, from its portrayal of black women to its elevation of the superhero genre (which I love so much), it meant a lot to me. I'm a black comic book nerd, raised by a black comic book nerd, and seeing my whole family leave this film emotional, yet exhilarated, was amazing. Those are some of my biases. I'm looking at this from a comic perspective, as well as a political perspective.

Since seeing the film, I've seen various reactions to it, most of them positive, and some of them critical of the politics of the characters. I'm not condemning those who were disappointed by T'Challa's lack of radicalism or who admitted to being Team Killmonger, but I do want to look at the politics a little deeper than what I've seen discussed so far. From watching a short video where director Ryan Coogler dissects a fight scene in the film, it's clear that this story was thought out on a molecular level, and I think it deserves a careful analysis. This is my attempt at that.

Erik Should Have Won?

There are several reasons why I think Erik coming out on top would have been a bad ending for this film, but a few are logistical issues. Let's say Killmonger actually did kill T'Challa and any resistance led by Nakia, and maybe M'Baku, was defeated. Killmonger and company would send out advanced weapons globally to oppressed black people. Even though Black Panther transcended the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it is still a Marvel movie. And now, the first black (solo) superhero in that universe would be dead while there is an ongoing black revolution taking place during Infinity War.

Now, we have Captain America fighting armed black people in Brooklyn. Not only do I not want to see that, but it just wouldn't happen. Marvel has its own very precise slate of films to get out and has been building up to Infinity War since 2011. Erik executing his plan would have undoubtedly affected the rest of the MCU, and I highly doubt execs would be greenlighting that crossover. This doesn't mean where the movie ended was the perfect solution to the problems that Erik brought up, but you also can't fault the movie for not doing something that just isn't possible (i.e. Erik winning and altering the MCU).

But let's actually break down this "revolution" that Killmonger was so eager to start. His plan was to take over his father's home country, build the "Wakandan Empire" and arm black and oppressed people into revolt. The conflict for me comes right in between those last two goals. Building an empire and Black Liberation are, at least at first, contradictory. Oftentimes it seems like Erik is advocating for colonizing the colonizers. He basically aims to build a better, stronger empire and do what they did to us, and more. Because of the death of his father, revenge is at the core of Erik's character, and it infects his desire to help his own people.

Erik is conflicted. When he is in the ancestral plane with his father they talk about how he was cut off from his homeland and how N'Jobu wishes he could have taken him there. Wakanda is both a place of wonder and pain for Erik, who seems like he is searching for his family, as well as his revenge in his homeland. This relationship makes sense if you put it in the context of black Americans descended from enslaved Africans and Africans on the continent. The relationship is complex, fraught with both pain and kinship. There's resentment and there's a lot of politics. But Erik's plan for the empire meant dominating others, and I wasn't convinced he was going to stop at just white people.

Also, I was skeptical of Erik's revolution because he had no value for human life. He wanted to arm black people, but he wasn't an ally to anyone in the entire film except himself. He killed several of his teammates, his lover and tried to kill most other characters in the movie at some point (Killing is in his name, so I don't think I need to put too fine a point on this). He also had no problem serving in the U.S. military and killing all shades of brown people overseas for the U.S. government. He marked his body as proof of it, so you know he's proud. He says he did all of this so he could kill T'Challa, literally his cousin who had no part in the murder of his father. His loyalty is extremely questionable, which means his revolution wasn't based out of loyalty, love or real concern for black people, but out of revenge and resentment of his oppressor.

However, there are some things you can't argue with him about. I didn't actually see the film as condemning the idea of armed rebellion or of Black Liberation (as much as a Disney film could). Erik was humanized a lot more than your average CGI super-villain, and there were so many moments where you had to agree with him. He called out real issues facing black people today, and I think that stuck with audiences of all backgrounds. He said these problems are real and so is possible retaliation for them. He wasn't asking for permission or mercy.

But there's only so far you can humanize the villain of a superhero movie. He's not the Black Panther, he's the adversary. You know T'Challa is coming out on top. The writers could have easily made Klaue the main villain, it would have been so much less complicated. But they didn't. They chose to deal with a villain as complex and compelling as Erik Killmonger. I don't think they did that to say we shouldn't rebel, but to investigate the ways in which we do.

I think the future for black people needs to be determined by our needs and wants for ourselves. It should be about building up the new, just as much as it's about tearing down the old and the oppressive. It can't be about domination for the sake of it, which is what Erik was attempting. But that also brings us to T'Challa's solution.

A Band-aid on a Gunshot Wound

One of my favorite scenes in the film was T'Challa on the ancestral plane after he gets thrown off the waterfall. He meets with his father, T'Chaka, and finally confronts him about his mistakes. It's a pretty classic movie storyline — the son pays for the sins of his father, but usually, you don't get to actually talk to your father about his sins. Only the strength of black spiritualism can pull off that. During that scene, T'Challa actually yells at his father and tells him he was wrong for abandoning Erik as a child. He's brave enough to tell his father, and his king, that he was wrong.

This whole story is emotional because it is a family story, but it also relates to us as a people. This scene hit me because I felt like T'Challa was talking about us. Erik compares himself to enslaved Africans brought to the Americas at the end of the film, and it feels like T'Challa is addressing that loss here in this moment. He's addressing the lost children and their ancestors that were stolen and given away. T'Challa wanted to repair that relationship between lost family and home, and make up for the mistakes of his father. Not everyone sees the black struggle as a global one, where Africa and the Diaspora are connected and communicating. A lot of people see our struggles and identities as separate ones. For me, this scene was more about healing within our community and addressing the past. If Erik had gotten that healing sooner, a lot could have been different.

In the end, the bond between Erik and Wakanda cannot be salvaged, which is painful and maybe unsatisfying in its own way. But T'Challa and Shuri seem to want to make up for it by coming to Erik's home in Oakland and trying to save other kids like him. I like the idea of Shuri mentoring young black kids and helping them discover their love of technology and creating. But is an NGO enough to address everything that Erik said he was fighting, or what his father brought up when he was describing what it's like to be black in America? Does it address all the postcolonial struggles in the rest of Africa? Nah. Not even close. And I see why that was disappointing to people watching. It's actually kind of what white people do to help out those who are less fortunate. Erik put a lot of issues on the table that are still on the table by the end of the film, but I almost think that was purposeful.

All those issues are real now, whether they get solved in the movie or not, and we have to find real solutions to all of those things without the help of a super advanced and wealthy black nation. Wakanda may have vibranium, but unfortunately, they don't hold the answers to ending the oppression of black people. T'Challa is navigating this as a monarch, not as a revolutionary (though the name might be deceiving). Wakanda is known for being closed-off and to only look out for themselves; they don't get into wars and they don't even trade with other nations. So the idea of being part of a global black struggle against racism is probably pretty out there to most Wakandans. Even talking about racism in the real world can be difficult between black people of different ethnicities. We have different experiences and viewpoints. Not that a global dialogue doesn't happen, but I think that level of understanding takes a lot more than the timeframe of this movie.

It takes Nakia's work and advice for T'Challa to begin to see that Wakanda might have a responsibility to the rest of the world. The role of women in Black Panther is one area in which Wakanda is revolutionary. This deserves its own article, but I want to mention it here, too. Nakia is the only Wakandan at the beginning of the film that we see looking outwards. The first time we meet her she is protecting young black girls and putting herself on the line to save them. She uses both her physical and mental strengths to accomplish her mission. She is clearly loyal to the King, but she also operates independently; she does what is best for her people and she doesn't ask permission. It's summed up best in the casino scene in Korea when T'Challa is inside and Nakia says he'll have to "catch up" with her and Okoye. It's about getting the job done, whoever can do it. They aren't weighed down by gender roles or power dynamics. T'Challa never pulls rank on Nakia, and there is genuine respect between them. The relationship doesn't sound that revolutionary, but I can't think of many on-screen relationships that are so balanced. There is more to say about these women, but the value in the representation of Nakia, Okoye, Shuri and the Dora Milaje cannot be understated.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Neither T'Challa or Erik had all the answers that we need today, and that's OK. I think the writers probably wish they could have written an end to police brutality, wealth disparity, job discrimination and hate crimes. I bet they wish they could have written us our reparations. But I don't think they have the solution either. They also had to execute an amazing Marvel film and get it approved by execs. But I think we can take pieces of wisdom from many of the characters.

Erik is right that this is a struggle that involves black people globally. He's right in loudly calling out the injustices that black people are facing in the world, and not talking to appease his oppressors. Nakia is also right that we need to share what we have with each other and take direct action against injustices. T’Challa is right that we need to heal ourselves and each other, and that we need to listen and understand first. That process will be/is a lot messier than flying a spaceship to Oakland, but it's worth it. Wakanda is right that our strength also lies in our women and that we need equality between us to achieve our greatest future. It is right that our heritage and traditions are beautiful and something to be proud of.

For me, the beauty of the film lies in the potential for what we can build: a future where people belong and have an identity that is unburdened by colonizers and enslavers, where the past guides us, but does not hold us back, where we can connect across borders and oceans, where everything tells you that you are perfectly and purposefully made, and where we can fight together for a free future for black people.