Black Panther is easily the most entertaining movie I’ve seen in a long time. It’s definitely the dopest superhero movie I’ve ever watched. The story is compelling and provocative. The (almost) all-Black cast is outstanding, terrific. The characters, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, are all loaded with contradictions, redeeming qualities and callous resentments, thus inviting us to empathize with their struggle(s). The collective body of work, that is Black Panther, should be recognized and applauded for the creative genius that it is.
Before I proceed, let me stop here for a moment. I realize that there will be those who criticize me for finding some negativity to harp on, rather than celebrating and appreciating the movie for its greatness. I understand where you’re coming from. Black Panther deserves every positive review and sentiment it gets, and some more. But, it’s our duty, especially at A Conscious Party, to critically reflect on such a phenomenon and determine how we can use it to expand our evolution towards revolutionary, collective consciousness.
With that being said, the story of Killmonger is a missed opportunity. His story could have been one of revolutionary change; instead, Killmonger’s story is flawed and ends in reactionary suicide. In order to expand upon this, I will need to use an historical tour-guide: Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Watching the film, I could not escape from intuitively drawing parallels between Killmonger and Huey Newton. I can’t help but believe that the writer(s) were, in fact, drawing upon Newton’s story in developing Killmonger’s character. They’re both from Oakland; both harbor legitimate resentment towards the system of oppression; and both balance a life of double-consciousness.
But, while Huey Newton was from the streets, he was no cold blooded killer, hell-bent on destruction at any cost. Newton was a thoughtful and reflective, revolutionary. That’s not to say that he didn’t have any flaws. Or that he didn’t struggle to balance being a revolutionary leader, while honoring and maintaining his Oakland roots. Huey, especially considering the time, was what kids today call ‘WOKE’. He taught himself to read; and was ideologically driven and meticulously strategic.
This brings me back to Killmonger, who shares many of the same attributes as Newton, only backwards. Killmonger is an unrestrained killer, strictly seeking vengeance and retribution. He holds no affinity for true revolution. The problem with this, is that it matches all too closely with the desired narrative that the system of oppression wants, needs, you to believe, deviating far from reality. In fact, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI Counter-Intelligence Program, went to incredible lengths in order to disrupt the revolution and distort public perception. It feels as if Black Panther, the movie, errs on the side of caution, sticking closer to what the oppressor(s) want you to think and feel about revolutionaries, rather than the truth.
Huey P. Newton often talked about the many differences between reactionary suicide and revolutionary suicide. For Newton, revolutionary suicide represented the need for Black people, and other oppressed people, to stand up for themselves against the oppressor(s). He considered this action to be revolutionary because they were fighting to bring the power to the people, and suicidal because confrontations with the police and other authorities were inevitable and would most definitely result in early deaths.
On the surface, it could appear that Killmonger’s death was revolutionary suicide. However, Huey Newton used the term reactionary suicide as a contrast to revolutionary suicide. He described reactionary suicide as hopeless and demoralizing. He viewed it as a form of defeatism. Killmonger didn’t commit revolutionary suicide. He was defeated and hopeless. He let himself die.
Black Panther, the film, missed an opportunity. The opportunity to feature a true revolutionary in a blockbuster film. They missed an opportunity to give the people what they need, and instead gave them what was safe and comfortable. Killmonger, and Wakanda, could have sparked a story of revolution, of real change. Instead, we’re left with a false representation of a revolutionary, and another educational program that’s somehow supposed to save the youth and change the world.
RIP Dr. Huey P. Newton 1942-1989
Using your imagination, what would you change to make Killmonger more revolutionary? How can we more effectively tell the stories of Huey Newton and other revolutionaries? What does revolutionary mean to you?