BLACK PANTHER and Killmonger entered theaters with a huge impact. The film set new records for most capital grossed by an African-American directed film, among others. It received critical acclaim. It showed an Afrofuturistic society in Wakanda. The film was also the first Marvel movie with a racially focused political weight.

The film deals with an advanced African society deciding if they should end years of isolation. Many tied that to America and the effects our isolationism has on other nations. However, the greatest symbol of American politics comes from the film’s villain, Killmonger. Michael B. Jordan earned praise for his portrayal of a villain that contains reflections of modern American politics. This deepens the character into a symbol of modern political dangers.

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Military Strength

Killmonger’s plan for Wakanda involved becoming king first. Then he would use his resources to arm African-Americans around the world. The plan makes sense for Killmonger’s character. He served in the Army and is angry over the oppression of his people. An aggressive military solution fits his mindset. It echoes America’s stance on the military as well. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported in 2017 that America outspends all other nations in defense funds. This number has increased steadily since the 1900s.

American Defense Spending, from United States Publishing Office 2015

The current administration has called for increases in military spending. This includes removing sequesters from 2013 to increase military spending. The government sees the military as a valid solution for the protection of Americans. Killmonger looks at Wakanda’s resources as a way to arm and free African-Americans around the world.

Military Failures

However, American military confidence has not always been a success. The Vietnam War stands as an obvious example. The American government wanted to stop the spread of communism. However, the military was not prepared for the guerrilla tactics of the Viet Cong. The war dragged on for over ten years before American withdrew its troops. The conflict in Iraq and the Middle East is a more recent example.

American forces invaded the country after 9/11. They overthrew and executed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Hussein’s death destabilized the region, however. American forces have been stuck in the Middle East ever since. Finally, the current nuclear tensions with North Korea can be seen as overconfidence in America’s military capabilities.

The problem is, the world wouldn’t survive a miscalculation.

Killmonger’s Folly

Killmonger’s actions echo that same danger of military overconfidence. Wakanda’s technology offers him an advantage. Imagine Wakandan spies waking up all over the world and using their tech aggressively. They’d easily take over smaller areas and grab early victories. They would get more areas as Wakandan troops arrived since Killmonger would have likely sent aid. However, this would lead to other problems quickly.

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Wakanda is highly advanced, but it is still one very small country. Their tech aids a war effort, but imagine what happens when the rest of the world mobilizes. Most other nations would join together to face down the mutual threat of Wakanda. Killmonger’s tech would hold out for a time. Eventually, though, the rest of the world would merely overwhelm Wakanda by sheer numbers (or even call in the Avengers).

The country would likely be drained by the war effort since all their resources would go to it. So they would be a depleted, beaten nation at the mercy of the world government. Germany was in the same position when they signed the Treaty of Versailles. Afterwards, their money was best used as cooking fuel, and the people dug in the trash for cigarettes. Wakanda might not be that bad, but it would suffer.

The world government would regulate their vibranium. All their actions would be monitored. At best, they’d be a police state. At worst, the society would become the third world nation they pretend to be. It’s a scary notion, mainly because the real world seems so perilously close to that scenario.

The Importance of National Protocol

The military operates on protocol and tradition, just as America does. Wakanda has its own protocol, which Killmonger manipulates for his plan. As the film progresses, Killmonger challenges for the throne due to his status as T’Challa’s cousin. He wins the battle and claims the throne. However, once there, Killmonger disregards protocol. He burns the heart-shaped herb so no other kings can have them. He breaks Wakanda’s isolation on his own. Finally, when T’Challa returns, Killmonger ignores his claim the challenge is ongoing (since T’Challa didn’t submit or die).

These actions seem character-based. Killmonger is merely being a villain. However, this reflects many parts of American history. Richard Nixon ignored the protocol of the presidency in Watergate. Joe McCarthy ignored the protocol of a free America in his communist witch-hunt. Today, another group is ignoring an essential American tradition — the openness of the country to all.

No Protocol, No Meaning

The alt-right (a far-right political movement) promotes white nationalism. Certain members believe America should be purged of non-whites. This belief is not only racist; it’s hypocritical to America. Many alt-right followers owe their status to America’s openness. Their ancestors came from other countries. They fought to be accepted in America. Without America’s protocol of openness then, those same alt-right followers would not be Americans now.

Killmonger owes his whole plan to Wakandan protocol. His entire scheme would have failed if T’Challa had ignored protocol and Killmonger’s claim to the throne. However, T’Challa kept to tradition, and Killmonger succeeded. His actions afterward show tremendous hypocrisy. His burning of the herbs shows he gives no thought to the future of the land he rules. He makes plans to plunge Wakanda into conflict, without a thought to how it will affect the country.

For all his knowledge of Wakandan protocol, Killmonger shows no understanding of how it has helped the country, or what it has led him to achieve. Instead, he promotes his version of the truth and aggressively takes what he needs to enforce it. Wakanda may approve of freeing Africans from oppression, but they would likely balk at starting WWIII. However, like the alt-right members, Killmonger’s own views trumps the ideals of the country he represents.

The Importance of the Nation

Another alt-right trait is nationalism, which Killmonger represents in two ways. His stance on liberating African-Americans at the expense of others epitomizes nationalism; he puts his own people above all others. However, Killmonger shows the negative results of nationalism too. His father was executed for attempting Killmonger’s plan. The King left Killmonger orphaned in America. Bringing him to Wakanda was too much of a risk. It’s no wonder Killmonger feels such anger towards Wakanda. He grew up poor because Wakanda chose security over him. Kilmonger saw other African-Americans suffering. He knew that help existed. It just wasn’t coming for them.

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Killmonger represents something unique as a result. He shows how nationalism can lead to dangerous actions. However, he is also the result of nationalism. Wakanda abandoning him shaped his views harshly. Their actions created him, and he nearly destroyed the country as a result. Kilmonger is both the danger and the result of rampant nationalism. It allows people to be abandoned. It creates new dangers at the same time. Wakanda’s isolation let many suffer because they didn’t have access to the nation’s resources. Killmonger is dangerous, but he is dangerous because Wakanda made him that way.

America faces the same risk. Clinging to nationalism means pushing away people that can help us. It also can mean denying people a haven. It’s a mentality the alt-right have perpetuated. The current administration has done the same thing. America left the Paris Agreement and is threatening to leave NATO. Putting American first means, we run the risk of alienating allies. We run the risk of creating future enemies as well.

What Killmonger Means For America

BLACK PANTHER stands as a powerful message for African-Americans. It shows a society they can hope for, and a hero they can cheer for. It gives them a message for the future. However, it speaks to all of us with Killmonger. It’s no surprise he is the only African-American character in the film.

Killmonger reminds us of the dangers in American politics right now. He shows just what happens when Americans don’t deal with the issues they face. His actions show what happens people forget the truth. Military strength and resources don’t always lead to lasting victory. The protocol has to be respected, or else countries forget what makes them great. And to paraphrase T’Challa, a nation should never come before doing the right thing.

These dangers speak to America right now. However, they aren’t bound to race or even to one nation. They have the potential to affect all of us, no matter where we are. It’s why Killmonger is so essential. We see the folly of his actions, and we realize how much reality is behind what he does. It makes us look at our world with more depth, and understand what we need to do to help keep it going. That makes Killmonger, and BLACK PANTHER, even more relevant for us all.

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