The following article contains major spoilers for Black Panther.
Chadwick Boseman knows what many viewers have been thinking as they watch Black Panther—that maybe Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the film’s ostensible villain, isn’t such a villain after all. That maybe Killmonger’s stated aim, to use the powerful technology and weaponry of the secluded African nation of Wakanda to liberate black people all over the world, is worth taking seriously. It’s an argument that Boseman himself wrestled with while making the movie, one he weaved into his performance as T’Challa, the titular hero and king of Wakanda who opposes his cousin Killmonger and eventually kills him in single combat.
“I actually am the enemy,” Boseman said of his character in a wide-ranging discussion with his Black Panther castmate Lupita Nyong’o and The Atlantic’s national correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater on Tuesday. “It’s the enemy I’ve always known. It’s power. It’s having privilege.” Recognizing T’Challa’s limitations as a character, and understanding the personal and philosophical evolutions he goes through in battling Erik, were crucial to the final arc of the film, Boseman said. And that arc is one reason Black Panther has become such an instant global phenomenon—because it’s a superhero movie that bucks a lot of the conventions of the genre, rejecting a simple, binary clash between hero and villain, and instead focusing on the ideological future of a nation.