Exploring grief in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Analyzing moments in the film that relate to marginalized communities across the globe.
Spoiler alert: This article discusses scenes from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
In 2018, Ryan Coogler’s superhero film, Black Panther, shattered box office records, won numerous accolades, and thrilled global audiences with classic action elements and a distinct cultural sensitivity. The movie contained a fresh tone and aesthetic which distinguished it from other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Understandably, even before its release, Black Panther was praised for its predominantly all-Black cast and crew—something which had not been seen yet in Hollywood.
In Coogler’s anticipated sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022), the same cultural and thematic relevance remains. Now, the beloved actors and their characters are haunted and irrevocably affected by the passing of the late Chadwick Boseman—who played the central character of King T’Challa in the first film. Initially, Coogler began drafting the plot and script for Wakanda Forever before Boseman’s passing from colon cancer in 2020. Having to construct a new script while confronted with a sudden tragedy, the story of Wakanda Forever follows the deep undercurrents of grief as a central theme that shapes the characters and their decisions.
Like with many superhero films, the plot is complex and there are several characters with intertwined motives. Following King T’Challas’ death, his mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), positions herself as the temporary leader of Wakanda to ensure the stability of her Kingdom. As geopolitical conflicts and economic greed for natural resources terrorize Wakanda, an emerging threat comes—in the form of the long-isolated aquatic nation known as Talokan. As home to a band of Meso-American peoples with natural powers, the film highlights their history, detailing how they fled enslavement and prosecution from the “surface world.” Talokan, along with Wakanda, are the only two nations abundant in vibranium—a fictional metal noted for its ability to store and release destructive amounts of energy.
The Talokan’s leader, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), is a completely unconventional “villain” in comparison to other blockbuster films; he goes to extreme and unrelenting lengths to secure the safety and advancement of his people. Guiding this great motivation, is, of course, inherited grievance. Namor wants to be allies with Wakanda, but Wakanda, in their vulnerable state, declines his offer, prompting Namor to threaten war.
The role of grief and the transformative power of loss are made central themes against the backdrop of geopolitical conflict, warring sides, and race. Going beyond the storyline, Wakanda Forever comments—in a non-discriminating manner—on the difference between premature death and death’s occurrence in older generations. The film comments on the process of healing—contingent with fairly recent tragedies affecting the Black community.
Throughout the film, there is a prevalent assumption that those who have died in their old age have lived a fulfilling, satisfied life and are not victims of the worlds’ indifferent cruelty. By contrast, it is the general perception that those who pass away young have been forced to forgo their futures.
The process of healing is messy, emotionally severe, and unfinished. In Wakanda Forever, T’Challa’s premature death carries with it the weight of a robbed future, and the grief surrounding his passing is most profoundly felt by those who were fully invested in his potential. At the start of the film, Shuri (Letitia Wright)— T’Challa’s sister and a scientific genius—is too late in concocting a heart-shaped herb that would have saved the ailing T’Challa. For the remainder of the film, Shuri’s repressed grief and emotional instability greatly influences her alliances, political decision-making, and by extension, the future of Wakanda.
A key moment in Shuri’s journey is her refusal to enact revenge on Namor and his nation—a moment that indicates her slow, yet positive, coping process. Through grieving, she puts aside the differences between Wakanda and Talokan, and instead focuses on uniting these nations based on their similarities—a sentiment reminiscent to T’Challa. Shuri no longer weaponizes her grief as an agent of vengeance. She truly begins the process of healing.
Violence and tragedy have too deeply coloured the narrative of what it means to be Black. However, as Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever suggests, we can rewrite that one-dimensional story through the ways we face challenges, in particular, grief.