Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Grief And The Power Of Women

How do you make a movie when your main actor had an untimely death? Can a film franchise be successful in the absence of its star? The recent release of Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has tackled those questions and more, and have come up with something different and wholly satisfying.

Warning: Some spoilers ahead. If you haven’t watched the movie yet, I would come back to this post after you have.

[Credit: Marvel]

Before the movie came out, Marvel announced that there was no intention of recasting Chadwick Boseman’s character King T’Challa of Wakanda. Knowing that a new actor wouldn’t be taking on Boseman’s role, what will the second film focus on? Rather than ignore the real life elephant in the room, director Ryan Coogler decided to integrate the loss of its star into the story.

The movie begins with younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) desperately trying to use her brilliant mind to save her dying brother. Working endlessly and tirelessly, she’s determined to use her gifts to come up with a solution to an illness that had suddenly brought down Wakanda’s king. Despite all her efforts there’s nothing Shuri can do and T’Challa passes away peacefully.

What follows is the mourning and funeral of Wakanda’s king and the last Black Panther. If you remember the story from the first film, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) infiltrates Wakanda and ingests the flower that gives a person the strength to become Black Panther before burning all the remaining plants, ensuring future generations will never be able to anoint a new successor. With their king and Black Panther gone, uncertainty has settled upon the kingdom making their nation especially vulnerable to outside threats without their protector.

Behind every great man is a great woman, and T’Challa had many who made him who he was through Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), General Okoye of the Dora Milaje (Danai Gurira), talented intelligence agent and lady love Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and of course Shuri. The loss of Boseman meant there was an opportunity to turn the film’s attention to the women of Wakanda.

Wakanda Forever is a meditation on grief—how we process and handle it in order to move forward. Everyone has different ways of dealing with grief. Some take the time to mourn the ones they have lost, and others keep themselves busy so they wouldn’t have to sit with their emotions. Each woman in the film represents the various stages of grief. And while they are trying to navigate a world without T’Challa, the women prove they are more than capable and willing to defend their kingdom and people from their newest enemy Namor (Tenoch Huerta), ruler of the underwater world Talocan.

Before watching the movie I wasn’t really concerned with who would be the next Black Panther. I never personally read the comics but I did know Shuri would become Black Panther. That probably wasn’t a huge surprise. What I was concerned about was how they were going to move the series in a new direction without Boseman there to play the role he was meant to play at least for a good number of years.

Coogler embracing the real life loss of the actor rather than shying away from it, making it one of the story’s main plot points, is a good move. It acknowledges the death of the actor (and character) while also driving this Marvel franchise in the direction it needed to go.

The first time I watched Black Panther I was immediately enthralled by the strength and power of the women of Wakanda. None of them ever took a backseat while the men were at the forefront. They were always right there with T’Challa fighting alongside him and offering equal support. Hell, Wakanda’s army is made up entirely of women warriors. How freaking cool was that?! Like many, I wondered what would have been if Boseman had lived to continue playing the role a bit longer, but I love how the women of Wakanda Forever take center stage and show they’re a force of nature to be reckoned with. They can bravely fight, even die, just as fiercely as the men, and they do it with grace and dignity.

Amidst all of that Wakanda Forever also allows for moments of emotional vulnerability. A strong and intimidating presence like Okoye hides her pain well at losing her king, a man she served and fought beside for years, and yet she isn’t afraid to let her anguish crack underneath her vibranium armor. Oftentimes women have been called weak if they show any ounce of emotion, or are seen as incapable of making sound judgements when they become “too emotional”. Not so here. Their emotions make them stronger and it fuels their desire to honor their king and protect a nation they love. Compassion and understanding, and not high tech weapons, are what ultimately ends the conflict between Wakanda and Talocan.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is undoubtedly the most somber of entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I appreciated the overarching theme on grief and how the women will answer the call to lead in the face of adversity.

Have you seen Black Panther: Wakanda Forever? What were your impressions of the film?


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