Killmonger's haunting final words reminds us just how different his experience was, as a black child growing up in America, from his cousin, who was groomed from birth to be a black king, leading a nation of truly free, brilliant, and beautiful black people. As he chooses to die -- invoking the spirit of the 1803 Igbo Landing Mass Suicide, in which enslaved Africans committed suicide off the coast of Georgia rather than be taken alive into bondage -- you realize this is heritage his cousin T’Challa does not share and could only attempt to understand. It’s certainly one of the movie’s most loaded moments.
I probably don’t have to tell you that black people are survivors. Hopefully, I also don’t have to explain my reasoning for saying black folks -- if I can speak for black folks just once -- aren’t having as good a time in America as we were, say, eight years ago. Not to say it’s as bad as it was in the 19th century, but of course that’s a remarkably low bar for measuring how people should be treated. Progress has been made, sure. But right here in the non-Marvel universe, in a world and country where we are always the bad guys -- whether we have unfortunate names like Killmonger and grew up in the streets or not -- African-Americans are still fighting for humanity.
That’s where Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger connects. It’s no coincidence that this is the same actor who portrayed Oscar Grant, as well as Adonis, the son born out of wedlock to Apollo Creed, the guy who was beaten to death by a white man. With your eyes properly focused, you can even see traces of the tragic character Wallace from The Wire, resurrected, and now ready, willing and able to retaliate. You know you shouldn’t root for him, but you might have actually seen the movie Roots, so maybe you could be forgiven for having a moment where even if you don’t like Killmonger, you feel him.
Now, imagine seeing this film in a city like Oakland, or Washington, DC, or St. Louis, or Chicago, or Harlem, or Atlanta, where I live. If there’s such a thing as an American Wakanda (which itself is kind of an oxymoron), it’s ATL, with its majority African-American population, of which the majority -- including the new mayor -- are women. These women have sons, nephews, students, brothers, fathers, boyfriends, and husbands who at some point may have resembled N’Jadaka. They know the experience, and they know it ain’t fair.