*Spoilers for Black Panther and The Legend of Korra*
As Panda and I were sitting through the end credits of Black Panther, I made a statement that seemed to throw her off just a little bit; “This movie reminded me of The Legend of Korra.”
Now I know what you’re thinking: how on earth does such an epic tale like Black Panther remind you of a children’s cartoon? Well that’s easy: they both had some of the most compelling, empathetic villains I’ve ever seen on screen.
In each season of Legend of Korra you have a villain whose end goal is hardly something anyone would define as ‘evil’. To give a very short description of each season: one is about inequality, two is about maintaining harmony in the world, three is the importance of individual rights and freedoms, the fourth and final season is about protecting and rebuilding a broken nation. (Mind you, that’s an incredibly limited synopsis of what I would argue is a much deeper show, but that’s another article for another time!)
Each of those goals sound, well, completely valid, don’t they? We battle inequality and the consequences of past inequalities to this day in our own nation. We are a nation that was founded on personal freedoms. If you take a step back, evaluate each of these villains and their beliefs, you find yourself going “Wow he/she kind of has a point.”
I found myself doing this with the mesmerizing Killmonger of Black Panther. He was so steadfast in his beliefs, so molded by anger, abuse and being the victim of a world that mistreats minorities that he became radicalized. Here is a man whose hurt and rage caused by systemic oppression was channeled into an end goal: become the oppressor. He wanted to give the world just a taste of the mistreatment his brothers and sisters had experienced at the hands of others for centuries.
And, truly, can you blame him? Just like the villains in The Legend of Korra, Killmonger’s end game wasn’t inherently evil. He wanted to use the technological advances of his nation to bring about a global change to better his people. To paraphrase a line said by his father, “Our people are over policed, abused, neglected and we have the power to change that, yet we do nothing.” Killmonger took his father’s rhetoric and used it to become a facilitator of that change. His passion and ideology made him powerful, but it also made him a zealot.
That, ultimately, seems to be the key to villainy: radicalization and corruption of good or neutral ideals. This concept is even verbalized in the fourth season of The Legend of Korra. Toph, who is trying to help Korra work through her trauma by reflecting on her past battles with her enemies, says “Don’t you think you could learn something from them?” Toph points out that Korra’s enemies were unbalanced and excessive in their pursuits. Their passion and strengths were corrupted, and that led to their downfall.
Korra learns from her enemies and even empathizes with them. It doesn’t stop her from administering the justice that she needs to bring, but it gives her a new perspective on the world. The same thing occurs in Black Panther. T’Challa almost seems hurt as he watches the sunset with a dying Killmonger in his arms. He realizes someone should have listened, someone should have done more for the man he has killed.
Then, like a true hero, T’Challa uses that realization to help the world. It’s a great message of self-reflection. It also makes you wonder: would the same result have occurred without Killmonger’s influence? It’s a chilling moment when you realize the villain may have been right about certain things. It’s almost like the best villains are just people with dreams and goals.