Is ‘Black Panther’ About Survivor’s Remorse? (Podcast)

Latest “Low Key” podcast looks for the deeper meaning of the Best Picture nominee

Black Panther Michael B. Jordan killmonger
Marvel Studios

What if Eric Killmonger isn’t only a supervillain, but also a victim of undiagnosed trauma, abandoned by the rest of his family? That take on “Black Panther” is at the heart of our latest “Low Key” podcast, which you can listen to on Apple or right here:

On each episode of “Low Key,” Keith Dennie, Aaron Lanton and I discuss pop cultural issues we think have been overlooked. This week, Keith and Aaron talk about subtleties of the Best Picture contender that white viewers may have missed — including how Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) represents black men left behind.

We start out the episode wondering whether we should take the Best Picture Oscar nomination for “Black Panther” at face value: Are Oscar voters making up for past snubs of superhero films, like “Dark Knight”? Or making an effort at recognizing more diverse films?

Could it be that Oscar voters simply love “Black Panther” as much as we do?

With nearly a year of hindsight, we also talk the true meaning of “Black Panther.” The key figure may not be Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), but rather his antagonist, Killmonger. Does Killmonger symbolize radical revolutionaries, as it might appear at first glance?

“He’s more than just a revolutionary. He’s somebody’s that’s suffering from post-traumatic syndrome,” Keith says.

(He may be too good a character to leave behind: an ET segment this week fueled hopes that Killmonger might return for “Black Panther 2.”)

“Black Panther” begins in 1992, when Wakanda’s king, T’Chaka, who fights for Wakanda in the guise of Black Panther, confronts his brother N’Jobu. N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) has stolen from the kingdom, in order to fight for revolution abroad. While T’Chaka (John Kani) attempts to bring his brother home, things go awry, and T’Chaka, to his own horror, kills N’Jobu.

N’Jobu’s death leaves his son, Eric, to grow up abandoned in Oakland, California. He trains to become an accomplished killer. When T’Chaka dies and his son, T’Challa, becomes king of Wakanda, Killmonger strikes, seeking the revenge he has plotted for decades.

Aaron explains on “Low Key” that Eric can be taken to represent other black people who feel abandoned.

“When you’re watching it, and you are a black person in the middle class, I can’t even explain to you the kind of survivor’s guilt you’re feeling,” Aaron says. “You feel like you’re Wakanda. … If you are of the second-generation of people who started going to college — for a lot of us you’re the first generation of people going to college — Killmonger, in some ways, represents what you’re afraid could happen to the people who have not had the opportunities you’ve had — who you know.”

It’s a thought-provoking conversation. I learned a lot, and appreciated “Black Panther” more than I did when we started. If you like the episode, please tell someone, give us five stars on Apple, or do whatever you can do.