Can We Finally Admit That Erik Killmonger Was Probably A Hotep?
Of all the heroes and role models to look up to in Black Panther, Erik Killmonger was not one of them. We’re finally far enough out from the film’s debut to examine why Erik–though engaging and interesting–was the film’s most problematic character.
Black Panther has been in theaters for a couple of months, and it’s coming out for digital and home release soon. The movie has broken all types of records and even gotten movie theaters in Saudi Arabia to open up again after more than 30 years. And Marvel is about to take us back to Wakanda for Avengers: Infinity War. Now that it’s become the highest grossing superhero flick and unseated Titanic, Black Panther is a certified movement. The film has given casual movie goers and nerds alike so much to enjoy–not the least of which was the phenomenal cast of characters. Among them, Erik Killmonger, in particular, has become a fan favorite.
For better or worse, Erik has made an impact on the culture. Expect to see lots of people dressed as him this Halloween. You probably know someone who has changed their Twitter handle to some derivative of his name. There are posters and memes of his quotes like he is an actual, real-life revolutionary. He’s pretty much seen as a secondary/misunderstood hero, but people are willing to overlook the incredibly problematic aspects of his character to lift him up.
Erik is one of the most fascinating villains we’ve seen in a long time. Like any good villain, there’s something just a bit seductive about his thought process; you want to know more about him. You can empathize with him on some level because his backstory was heartbreaking and it left us with so many questions (most importantly, what happened to his mama?). He’s complex and engaging. But, folks, it’s time that we all face the facts: Erik Killonger was probably a Hotep.
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So, what do we know about Hoteps and how does that relate to Erik Killmonger? Hoteps are, first and foremost, very Pro-Black in a lopsided and incomplete way. They’re all about the advancement and education of Black people, but only within the very narrow scope of replacing white male patriarchy with Black male patriarchy. This means that they’re frustratingly misogynistic and homophobic. Most of their logic centers around the idea of lifting straight cisgender Black men to the top of the social food chain without much thought for the rest of the Black community. In many instances, their vision of Black cultural elevation really only extends as far as themselves. However, they slather their very ashy ideals in the watery lotion of fake wokeness to gain support. To the untrained mind, their talking points make sense on the surface.
In other words, they lure you in with lines that sound really good and speak to enough of your beliefs to hook you before you realize the rest of their message is super problematic. That message often includes half-baked ideas on how to achieve a given objective. Those plans never hold up well under even the least bit of scrutiny.
That’s exactly what happened with Erik, but it didn’t take much to lure the audience to his side. His first scene in the museum struck a chord with so many people in the audience–myself included! I mean the man had a point, Great Britain didn’t exactly engage in a fair trade to get many of those West African artifacts. And his last line about being buried in the ocean like his ancestors? That took everyone out!
Erik had a really strong start that was followed by a stronger finish, and it does not hurt that Michael B. Jordan was so sexy as the villain that it’s almost unfair. And, let’s make no mistake, Erik was absolutely a villain in Black Panther–probably one of the best developed villains in the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He had some good points about race and justice, and he had some great sound bites, but that’s not enough to make him a hero — or even a decent anti-hero. If you do just a little bit of digging, and give his actions just a bit more thought, it’s clear that there were some huge problems with his methods for achieving his goals.
While it was admirable that he wanted Black people all over the world to actively fight against our continued oppression, his actual motivations were pretty flawed. He was overcome with jealousy, anger, and hurt toward his cousin, T’Challa, and the royal family of Wakanda. It created an incredibly one-sided rivalry. He felt that they owed him something for the death of his father, but they had no clue that Erik even existed until he showed up at the border. Erik’s aggression was completely misguided because he was operating from a mental space where all of the royals knew who he was and actively shut him out of Wakanda. He felt rejected by the family even though he knew, logically speaking, that they were never given a proper chance to welcome him as one of their own.
Not only that, but he was willing to work with one of Wakanda’s biggest enemies in Klau in order to hatch his plan to create a Wakandan empire. That makes no sense–especially when you consider that colonizer Klau sees the people of Wakanda as savages. Keep in mind that Klau called them savages, even though he knew how rich Wakanda is in natural resources and how technologically advanced it is as a nation. Erik had to be willing stoop mighty low to work with him, but that is just one of the flaws in his logic.
From the beginning, Erik’s plan for Wakanda was not sustainable. One of his first acts as king was to destroy all of the heart-shaped herb that gives the Black Panther his strength. Why? This might go back to his military training on how to overthrow existing power structures. Most likely, though, he didn’t want anyone to be able to challenge his claim to the mantle of Black Panther or the throne. This also shows that Erik wasn’t thinking beyond his own potential reign. And if he was, he most likely wasn’t thinking of retaining any of Wakanda’s central culture because he didn’t appear to be thinking of a necessary line of succession. He can’t lead Wakanda (or the African diaspora) forever, and there was no concrete plan for the future. What did he think was going to happen to Wakanda after he passed on? What would happen to the tradition of the Black Panther once he was too old to serve as Wakanda’s protector? He probably didn’t have any of that worked out.
Let’s not forget that he was also hasty in his execution of a global coup. Wakabi noted that most of the War Dogs spread throughout the world were not onboard with his plan, but factions in three major cities were ready to mobilize. As amazing as the soldiers of Wakanda are, it would require all of their compliance to work. Factions in three cities are not enough to take over the world or correct racial injustices on the scale he was aiming for.
Now, let’s dive into his misogyny. While Erik never explicitly shared his views on gender politics, we need look no further than his actions to know that he was abusive towards women. He had no respect for women unless that agreed with him and went along with his shenanigans–which is another hallmark of Hotepery.
Half of the people he killed in Black Panther were women. He had no problem sacrificing his girlfriend the very moment she slipped up and allowed herself to be captured by Klau. He shot her in the head without a second thought just to get to his enemy. That’s how much he thought of her and how little he valued her despite the ways she’d helped him work towards his goal. Then he killed a member of the Dora Milajae just as easily and genuinely seemed to enjoy taking her life.
He was also more than willing to choke the life out of an elder when she tried to explain to him why it would be wrong to destroy all of the heart-shaped herb. Mind you, she was treading pretty lightly with him when she spoke up, and he responded by hoisting her into the air by her throat and growling his order again. He met logic and a cautious approach with aggression and violence. Erik might also have killed Shuri had T’Challa not taken him down.
At the end of it all, instead of taking the opportunity to learn something and adjust his world view, Erik chose to die. Granted, he would have absolutely been locked up for a while–look at all of the destruction he caused with his backwards thinking. Still, I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t eventually be released and given the opportunity to work on constructive options for expanding Wakanda’s influence. He was given the option to live and improve, and instead of being accountable for his actions, he’d have rather died. Just like a Hotep!
Look, I get that Erik Killmonger was a fantastic character. Michael Bae Jordan played the hell out of that role. It’s a shame we may not see him as the series continues. But, when looking at Black Panther with a more critical eye on his character, it’s hard to deny that he was incredibly problematic.