Wakanda Forever Reveals How Loss Can Turn Us Into Villains Or Heroes
By Lawrence Baafi, BA International Relations and Development Studies
Chadwick Boseman’s unexpected death in 2020, compounded by the fictional passing of the character he brought to life, ‘King T’Challa,’ sparked profound grief across the world. In the aftermath of his passing, the void he left behind in the Black Panther franchise raised questions about how the story could possibly move forward. After making such a significant impact on popular culture, many supporters thought it was unimaginable that Boseman could be recast. Marvel Studios considered his presence to be irreplaceable. Another character would have to step into the role of Wakanda’s protector, which is why the film’s initial screenplay has to be rewritten to bring ‘Princess Shuri’, played by the talented Black British actress Letitia Wright, to the forefront. Needless to say, as the new Black Panther, she has some big paws to fill. The importance of this commemorative scene, paying tribute to Boseman, demonstrates how the Black Panther was not only tasked with the mission of rescuing everyday Wakandans from fresh existential threats but had to save audiences from the sense of loss we all experienced as fans when walking into cinemas to watch this film. Kick-starting the movie this way spotlights how monumental the concept of grief was in shaping how the women-led cast and crew approached the creative direction of this action-packed blockbuster.
Different philosophical outlooks on grief are illustrated and highlighted throughout the film. Wakanda is a civilisation that sits at the intersection of traditionalism and the wonders of technological advancement, providing people with conflicting explanations for what the concept of death means in society and how to contend with it. In essence, with the Wakandan royal family struggling to cope with the loss of their beloved king, the film illustrates a struggle to understand the underlying purpose behind the inevitable nature of death. On one hand, ‘Queen Ramonda’, played by award-winning African-American actress Angela Bassett, symbolises how many people are comforted by an indulgence in spiritual traditions. The vivid imagery of a vision she had where she encountered King T’Challa after he died, illustrates how relationships can persist even in the face of death. Alternatively, as a rationally-minded genius with a passion for science, Princess Shuri illustrates how in the context of modernity, we can struggle with accepting the spiritual explanation for why we lose loved ones. Addressing the fact that her brother passed away is complex for her since she is sceptical about the validity of the ancestral plane and struggles to participate in the conventionality of ritualistic practices, which may offer her some sense of relief.
The antagonist of the film, ‘Namor’, who hails from ‘Talokan’, an underwater kingdom based on the neglected historiography of indigenous cultures in Latin America, functions like a mirror which reflects the grievous suffering of Princess Shuri. We meet these characters as they strive to cope with painful emotions that cause them to become overwhelmed with rage, fueling their anger towards the world. Since they have been afflicted with identical wounds, they both represent an internal conflict we can see unfolding throughout the movie, which revolves around the hardship of overcoming the negative feelings that arise as a consequence of losing those we love. Drowning in the tragic loss that they face sparks a complex emotional journey, we see them struggle to stay afloat in the sea of a painful grieving process, where they could either sink into vengeance, or use the pain to swim towards making the world a better place.
“Captivating storytelling centred around Africa and indigenous people enriches our understanding of the world by encouraging us to become attuned to the struggles of the oppressed.”
On a final note, the Black Panther series is more than just entertainment. An alluring feature of the franchise is the positive representation which humanises marginalised groups that have been neglected or demonised on the big screen for so long. Captivating storytelling centred around Africa and indigenous people enriches our understanding of the world by encouraging us to become attuned to the struggles of the oppressed. Thematically, the anti-imperialist standpoint expressed in the movie uses fiction as a means to shed light on the plight of underdeveloped countries in the Global South, countries that are exploited by wealthy countries for their raw materials. The film beholds cathartic qualities that evoke a wide range of emotions within the audience. Watching this cultural phenomenon is like being immersed in a therapeutic experience that can heal our collective consciousness from the politics of hate, urging us to constructively use the loss we encounter to build bridges and fight for a better world.
Photo Caption: Black Panther 2 poster (Credit: Marvel Studios).