The ideological debate about whether Wakanda has a responsibility to open its borders to share its wealth and technology and help make the world a better place is arguably one of the most riveting parts of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. The question weighed heavily on actor Chadwick Boseman’s mind as he prepared to play Wakanda’s king, T’Challa. And interestingly, it led him to a complicated idea about his character.
During a recent discussion with co-star Lupita Nyong’o and Black Panther comic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, Boseman described how, in conceptualizing his take on T’Challa, he came to see him as something of a villain. Though he may not be the murderer that Erik Killmonger is, Boseman said, T’Challa represents something just as dangerous:
“I actually am the enemy. It’s the enemy I’ve always known. It’s power. It’s having privilege. I don’t know if we as African-Americans would accept T’Challa as our hero if he didn’t go through Killmonger because Killmonger has been through our struggle, and [T’Challa hasn’t].”
While Black Panther does an excellent job of presenting Killmonger in such a way that makes you immediately sympathize and identify with him and understand his worldview, the film is much more subtle in its critiques of T’Challa, though they are there.
Boseman makes an excellent, important point. T’Challa was born into the lap of luxury, and while he doesn’t hew to Wakanda’s isolationist traditions quite as strongly as some of the people around him, he does reap the benefits of a powerful African nation that’s neglected the plight of the African diaspora for centuries. Like Killmonger, T’Challa’s complicated and imperfect, qualities that make both of them such compelling, human characters. If only more of the players in the MCU could say the same.