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Like Martin Luther King Jr. & Malcolm X before them, fantasy superheroes Black Panther & Killmonger wage a proxy war of paradigms to deal with historic oppression. The movie unleashes anger for both colonizer AND African Americans (or African of any hyphenation) who have NOT risen in violence and defiance – incredulous that Africans have somehow let this happen by inaction or complicity.

In a way this reminds us of how post WWII children of both Jews and Germans asked their parents the same question about the holocaust:

How could you let this happen?

It seems unfathomable that both Germans and Jews allowed a minority to rule with unspeakable cruelty; it seems incomprehensible that slaves remained subject to cruel and inhuman treatment when they outnumbered their slave owners. But such is the nature of oppression and learned helplessness.

Some Implications of Black Panther:

Christianity Today tries to answer “What ‘Black Panther means for Christians“:

“The film Black Panther… did not set out to highlight black suffering, but black achievement. Furthermore, it was black achievement in a black context. For black people, this was a film for us, by us, and about us…

American evangelicals might look to Black Panther as a starting point for dialogue and reflection as they increasingly address concerns about diversity, reconciliation, and representation in their churches and the church at large.

This movie milestone exemplifies how deeply we as a people want to be our whole black selves and tell our whole stories. We resist the expectation that we must conform to cultural norms in order to be accepted in white spaces, including evangelical institutions…

The bigger black story reflected in Black Panther also leads us to ask how that narrative challenges, affirms, or ignores elements of the Christian story. Black Panther does have something to say about the black diaspora that is directly relevant to church and its mission.

At the heart of the film lies the question:

What are those with resources (the Wakandans) going do about black suffering in the world?

The film posits three responses: violent black nationalism, isolationist black nationalism, and an engaged nationalism that addresses the rest of the world…

Black Panther shows us that rejecting violent nationalism need not carry with it rejecting the concerns of oppressed peoples. This idea is deeply Christian. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. could say that “riots are socially destructive and self-defeating” and that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

The Anti-Hero-Hero

Black Panther serves to vent the shear frustration of subjugation and colonization to the point that some people think the villain, Killmonger, is the actual anti-hero-hero of sorts.

Esau McCaulley writes,

“Killmonger is such a compelling antagonist because audiences are left to wonder whether to see him as a criminal or the inevitable outcome of society’s past sins. His path of violence is thwarted, but the questions he raised still linger. How do we come to grips with the legacy of what was done to African peoples?

In real life, we also find ourselves grappling with whether or how to address these kinds of questions. In the church, can we be painfully honest about the past? I tend to believe that black and evangelical churches are not separated by different understandings of the Bible but different readings of history…

This is a challenge to wealthy Christians. Have we ignored the needy? Many black pastors and lay leaders know that the segment of the black nationalism community, which advocates abandoning Christianity, contends that the black church has failed poor blacks. This criticism is overstated, but it is there. We must remember that people need the bread of life and actual bread and actual jobs that give them the dignity of providing bread for their loved ones.”

A Study of Contrasts

The problem with the Black Panther – Killmonger comparison to Martin Luther King Jr. – Malcolm X, is that in the fantasy portrayal of the Avengers, both Black Panther and Killmonger subscribe to the same paradigm of violent revenge as the primary means to achieve justice; they merely disagree to the degree of violence used.

While Dr. King aimed to emulate the ideals of Jesus Christ and advocating for change through nonviolence and civil disobedience – Malcolm X was known for a “by any means necessary” approach. In the end both died violently (King by a white supremacist terrorist; Malcolm X by members of his own Nation of Islam hit men), but both did not leave the same legacies.

Without Justice there is no Peace

One of Dr. King’s most powerful writings was his Letter from Birmingham Jail addressed to his “Dear Fellow Clergymen” (namely white Pastors and power brokers). It is worthy to be re-read again and again so that we have a better answer to the question, “how could you let this happen?”