Editor’s Note: There may be spoilers here for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER makes its exciting and emotional debut on November 11th in theaters everywhere and fans of the franchise will finally have some of their lingering questions answered. Who, if anyone could take up the mantel of the Black Panther? This is something that we’ve been asking ourselves in real life. This question also extends itself into the realm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Returning to the franchise are Lupita Nyong’o (“Nakia”) Letitia Wright (“Shuri”) Danai Gurira (“Okoye”) as well as newcomers Tenoch Huerta Mejía (“Namor”) Mabel Cadena (“Namora”), and Alex Livinalli (“Attuma”).
When Black Panther came out, it was bigger than a film. It was a huge moment in the Black community and Black history. It broke records and became the highest-grossing film directed by a Black filmmaker. The Black community dressed to the nines, sang, and danced before screenings. Going to see the movie was an event for us. That came with a lot of pressure, and that pressure carried over into the sequel.
Ryan Coogler had already written the entire script when Chadwick Boseman passed. So he was tasked with not only rewriting and reimagining the story but having to do so while navigating his own grief and holding space for his cast to grieve as well. Coogler chose to focus on the people surrounding T’Challa and I think that choice not only gave the film an authentic feel but brought the Black women who led alongside the Black Panther to the forefront. This is a type of representation we as Black femmes rarely get to have. Multiple Black femmes as the heroes of a Marvel movie is something groundbreaking in my eyes.
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER begins with a jarring cold opening. Shuri frantically works in her lab trying anything and everything to save her beloved brother and hero, T’Challa. This is her comfort zone and where she shines, in the lab doing her best to protect her brother while he protects Wakanda. However, this time it doesn’t work and Wakanda loses its hero to an unnamed illness. Yes, this movie is filled with action and technology and beautifully choreographed fight scenes but the heart of this film is how we see each character grieve the loss of T’Challa.
Shuri is definitely at the center of this narrative, where she is constantly shifting between anger, avoidance, and survivor’s guilt. This was a delicate path for the cast and crew to forge especially with real grief at play. Wright expanded her thoughts on this in the recent press conference: “It was Ryan’s guidance on how do we create a full arc of this human being?”
She continued, “This young woman [is] going through something alongside her fellow family members, in general, and Wakandans. The way it was written and the delicacy, the gentleness of how we approached it, we always spoke. We always communicated every step of the way, and we were able to bring something that felt real, that felt truthful. I was able to really give my heart to it and give Shuri a full arc. And hopefully, people can really resonate with that and find some healing alongside us, with it.”
The pressure for Shuri to find her way and her purpose after her brother’s passing is a constant theme within the film. She turns to creating new technology as a way to avoid confronting her grief. And in the middle of this journey, Wakanda is blindsided with yet another shocking twist – the arrival of the “antagonist” Namor. An Indigenous Mesoamerican god who was born out of oppression and displacement, Namor is saddled with a similar, anger-filled grief as Shuri. He believes Wakanda is responsible for the possible discovery of his oceanic people the undersea nation of Tālocān and wants to hold Wakanda accountable for it.
Huerta discussed the range in types of grief the characters expressed at the international press conference for the film. He explained, “It doesn’t mean that it’s right or not. But it explains [it].” He continued, “Why [do] the people choose different reactions [when confronting] the grief and the threat of life? That’s beautiful because it’s human. We have these two characters [in Wakanda Forever], taking different decisions with the grief and the threat.”
Intertwining these two cultures and perspectives gives audiences a look at the amazing visual design of Namor’s homeland as well as an expansion of Wakanda. The undersea civilization of Tālocān is full of Indigenous and Mesoamerican art and splashed with a vibrant seascape or blues and aqua colors. This provides a visual contrast from Wakanda’s warm and dusty earth tones.
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER successfully navigates the nuances of grief, explores the interpersonal relationships between two highly marginalized cultures, and brings black femmes to the forefront. All this while giving Marvel fans the action and adventure they love. Is it perfect? No, but I don’t know if it would have been considering the huge shift that was thrown at them. However, it’s important and groundbreaking. It gives audiences things they’ve never seen. At its core, it’s a beautifully written emotional story about struggling with grief. Letitia Wright gives a powerful performance and relatable performance as Shuri.
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER will debut in theaters on November 11th.
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