The Arkham Sessions, hosted by Dr. Andrea Letamendi and Brian Ward, is a weekly podcast dedicated to the psychological analysis of pop culture, including Batman: The Animated Series, Steven Universe, the MCU, and Doom Patrol. Nostalgic, humorous, and even a little educational, each episode promises to lend some insight into the heroes, villains, and classic stories of the Dark Knight and more!
The Arkham Sessions, Ep. 181 - Black Panther
The Marvel film Black Panther (2018) marks a turning point in the comic book cinematic landscape of predominantly white superheroes. Director Ryan Coogler chose his hometown Oakland, CA, as the familiar cultural backdrop to offset the technologically advanced nation of Wakanda. Wakanda, where Black Panther lives, is the hidden, resource-rich utopia in East Africa. Coogler contrasted the two main characters in Black Panther--Erik Killmonger, who represents the experiences of African Americans and subjected to colonization, and T'Challa, who represents Wakandan Africans who escaped the horrors of enslavement and nurtured their own isolated political, educational, and social system via the abundance of the natural ore called Vibranium. The film highlights real global tensions such as the national hoarding of resources and gatekeeping of outsiders; at its core, though, the film is about individual tensions: belongingness, identity, and family. Killmonger, raised in Oakland, was well familiar with a community of Black people who cared and tended for each other through distribution of local goods and services, shared resources like housing and food, and the much-needed organization of fellow uprisers. The fact that other Black people were suffering across the world was unacceptable to him morally. Killmonger recognizes he is a part of the Wakandan royal family and rightly deserving of the Wakandan culture (i.e., the monarchy, the Vibranium, the army, the weapons...), but T'Challa feels completely unrelated to Erik and disagrees with his vision.
Erik Killmonger is a complicated villain. During his adolescence, he saw spaceships in the sky, and soon discovered his father was murdered. But his Wakandan family did not take him in. He was abandoned and left to figure out his place in the world without a Wakandan guardian. Being both Wakandan and African American shaped his self-beliefs, but he becomes more than just the sum of his parts.
Drea discusses the long-term impacts of abandonment and familial isolation, and the potential of feeling lost or adrift. In many ways, we may expect Killmonger to be broken, fragmented, confused about identity, and fragile within his personality. But his cultural hybridity is a strength; he grows to be adept, self-reliant, unconfined, and assured about who he is. It isn't the "villain" who ultimately changes his perspective, but the hero T'Challa, who is impacted by the revolutionary spirit and determination of his cousin.
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