Beware of spoilers for Black Panther, ye who enter here
“I’ve been waiting my entire life for this.”
Michael B. Jordan and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler go way back. The two have been partners since their first film Fruitvale Station, and are continuing their relationship into Creed 2. But Black Panther was a bit of a surprise. Jordan had already been cast in a recent Marvel film as The Human Torch. Now, he’s suddenly cast in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther’s first villain. Luckily, Coogler chose the perfect actor for the job.
Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, is one of the MCU’s greatest villains. It’s not just that Jordan’s performance is great, which it is, it’s that Killmonger is actually a well-motivated villain. His desires and reasoning is clearly explained, making him the perfect kind of villain: the kind you can sympathize with. But why is Erik Killmonger significant to this story, and why can he challenge T’Challa for the Wakandan throne?
Well, because he too is a Wakandan prince.
Wakanda is an advanced nation. So advanced that it has spies stationed throughout the modern world. One such spy was named N’Jobu, played by the incredible Sterling K. Brown. Rather than fulfill his initial purpose, N’Jobu betrayed his people. But he did so because he thought he was helping his people. Unfortunately, it led to a horrific encounter with his brother, T’Chaka. N’Jobu realizes he is being spied on as well. Forest Whitaker’s character Zuri was a spy working with T’Chaka, who spied on his brother N’Jobu. When N’Jobu finds out he opens fire on Zuri, only to find the Black Panther in his stead.
T’Chaka quickly gets in front of his friend and kills his brother. It’s a horrifying act, but one that was sadly necessary. If T’Chaka hadn’t killed N’Jobu, Zuri would be dead. But sadly, Killmonger’s tragic story starts there.
The Boy Outside
Just outside the apartment building where T’Chaka killed his brother, a boy looks up from his basketball game. The boy slowly meanders into the apartment building as if expecting the worst. Which is what he’s greeted by. The boy finds his father, a Wakandan Prince, dead at the hands of the Wakandan King.
That boy was Erik Killmonger.
A son left without a father. Without a home or purpose. And without ever getting to experience the life he deserved. It wasn’t Erik Killmonger’s fault that his Father had betrayed his people. But T’Chaka left the boy there. A son of Wakanda all by himself. He becomes a killer, joining the military as soon as he’s able.
He soared through the ranks and becomes the ultimate soldier. The way his training and expertise is described by Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross makes Killmonger sound like Bucky Barnes’ Winter Soldier. He too is capable of toppling an entire government in days. And so the boy has literally trained his entire life so that he can infiltrate his father’s home nation, manipulate its people, and take the throne for himself by right of challenge.
And that’s what he does. Killmonger’s entire motivation is based on the idea that Wakanda has refused to help anyone beyond its own borders. Even their own people. Erik is just one of the many children left to fend for themselves when Wakanda has more than enough resources to help.
That’s why he believes Wakanda needs to change. That’s why and how Erik Killmonger becomes King of Wakanda in Black Panther.