Why Black Manta Isn’t A Villain In Aquaman, According To Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta in costume in Aquaman
(Image credit: (Warner Bros.))

Warning: the following contains SPOILERS for Aquaman.

As it nears the $1 billion mark, Aquaman is effortlessly riding the high tide at the box office as the DCEU's biggest hit. There are a lot of things the underwater superhero action flick did right that contributed to its success. For fans of the comics, the addition of supervillain Black Manta was certainly a highlight. That said, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who took on the role for Aquaman, believes you can scratch 'villain' from the character's title. Here's what he said:

To me, Black Manta is not after world domination. He's not a villain. I don't think he's a villain. He wants one thing, a simple thing, which is revenge.

If you've seen Aquaman, you might know what Yahya means. While Black Manta, a.k.a. David Kane, is introduced as a badass pirate who hijacks a Russian submarine and uses Atlantean technology to build that iconic suit and go after Aquaman, he has sympathetic motivations.

Arthur Curry left David Kane's father, Jesse Kane, to die when he could have easily saved him, so he is understandably on Black Manta's bad side. Did David have to decide to let revenge consume him? No, but his motivations are clear and makes a bit of sense. He's also not the main villain of Aquaman, since Arthur's half-brother Orm is set on world domination.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen's words to The IMDb Show shows a sympathic understanding of the character that is sometimes necessary for the actor filling the role to take. He has a good point and there have certainly been movie heroes who've had their origin story start with revenge on the mind (Spider-Man and Black Panther being excellent examples).

One of Aquaman's strengths was certainly the inclusion of Black Manta and his origin story. Too often villains are introduced without a clear motivation or specific purpose for their wrongdoings, especially when it's the need for power or just because they are "evil."

While speaking with IMDb, Yahya Abdul-Mateen also jokingly said his goal was to steal away as many fans he could away from Jason Momoa to his side, and perhaps the approach to his character did just that. Black Manta is reminiscent of Black Panther's Killmonger, who had a similar back story and certainly made his case as to why he was against T'Challa.

While Black Manta wasn't the main antagonist of Aquaman, since he survived the film, an Aquaman sequel could see him continue his mission of revenge. Considering how much of a fan favorite Black Manta is, I wouldn't doubt that we haven't seen the last of him.

Having a more complicated and atypical villain certainly can help a superhero film steer away from the white and black, good vs evil premise comic books are often rooted in, which leads to challenging audiences and inspiring discussion.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.