In Black Panther, Erik Killmonger’s (Michael B. Jordan) ruthless skills as an assassin earned him both his nickname and a chest full of scars — tribal marks known as crocodile scarring to mark each one of his kills.
But those distinctive scars, which rippled across actor Jordan’s body in his shirtless combat scene with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) take inspiration from an unlikely source — Denzel Washington in Civil War drama Glory. Jordan revealed the inspiration for his scars while speaking at the 47th AFI Life Achievement Gala in honor of Washington.
Presented by Audi, the annual gala honors a figure in film history that exemplifies excellence and a lasting body of work. Washington’s rich filmography certainly speaks for itself, but Jordan added further fuel to the fire with his musings about how the actor inspired his own enduring cinematic character.
“I remember hearing stories about you and I heard stories that when you were huddled around the campfire in that film, [Glory], you weren’t supposed to be shirtless but you still had the scars put on your back, so you could feel it, so you could know that’s what your character’s been through,” Jordan told the crowd. ” I tell you right now tonight brother, that’s the only reason why Killmonger, when I played that role, I had those scars, even when I wasn’t shirtless because of you, so I want to say thank you for that.”
The revelation was particularly resonant given that Killmonger is a character obsessed with punishing his people’s oppressors through the same violence perpetrated against them. He even makes reference to choosing death over bondage in his final moments. Washington’s Glory character, Silas Trip, carries scars on his back from various punishments he endured as a slave — a truth that is revealed in an infamous scene in which his character is flogged.
Jordan spoke further to the power of this onscreen moment, beyond its inspiration for his role, insisting that Washington’s acting prowess makes him a real-life superhero.
“Denzel movies hurt, viscerally. You watch him onscreen and your heart races. You sweat,” he said. “So what is it? What is it that inspires so many of us to try like hell to reach for that bar that you have set so high? If your answer is, it’s his unique ability to portray the complexity of the human narrative through his work, you’d be correct. But what’s also true is we all want that power. We wish for his wizard-like power to channel [that] human emotion, all of our feelings wrapped up into one big embrace, where we all feel something, together, where we all feel human. Because let’s be real — in the mind-numbing, weary world that we all live in, we need heroes, we need superheroes like Denzel to remind us that we’re all one people. That’s your gift, sir, you unite us, you inspire us, and I want to thank you for leading the way.”
The 47th AFI Life Achievement Award presented by Audi will air on TNT on June 20.