In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, director Ryan Coogler creates space for communal grief and challenges viewers to think more deeply about the impact of colonialism. The film is the highly awaited sequel to Marvel’s record-breaking Black Panther (2018), which grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide. Two years later, in 2020, the sudden death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer left fans of the Marvel franchise distraught and confused.
The cinematic introduction to Boseman’s character, T’Challa, was one of the first times that a superhero film was directed by and starred Black artists. Boseman’s presence is missed and felt throughout the film, but it is the beginning of Wakanda Forever that most pierce the emotions of viewers.
Afro-futuristic depictions of Africa and Africans and the recurring theme of divide-and-conquer remain present in Wakanda Forever, but this time, Coogler invites viewers to consider other futures and futurism. We are introduced to a new villain, Namor (also known as the god-like figure Kukulkán), played by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta Mejía. Namor represents Indigenous peoples from Mexico, and Coogler’s reimagining of the character and his homeland of “Talokan” not only makes him a unique aquatic superhero but also positions him to fit neatly into the Black Panther political universe—as if this is where he always belonged.
Namor is a villain with admirable traits. His strength is like no other, and he has the willpower to rage against all colonizers in a manner very familiar to Wakandans. The addition of Indigenous characters with Mayan and Aztec roots allows the film to highlight the importance of interethnic solidarity.
The film’s beauty reverberates throughout its cinematography, wardrobe, and outstanding emotional performances from the cast. The underwater scenes in Namor’s kingdom of Talokan are truly breathtaking. It’s a credit to the actors’ fluid body language, the imagery, and the ocean-blue color palettes. In each scene, the wardrobes matched the mood effortlessly, whether it was armor for war or ceremonial garb to bury the dead.
In addition to Tenoch Huerta Mejía’s standout performance, Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda thoroughly embodied the role of a wife mourning her husband and mother mourning her son. The tone of her voice and her ability to toy with volume allows her to come across as a grieving mother full of rage but equally empathetic to everyone else’s needs. Letitia Wright (Shuri), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), and Dominique Thorne (Riri Williams/Ironheart) also had equally impressive performances.
While it was nice to see another example of Black Girl STEM magic on screen (and for Wright’s character to have an apprentice), the film falls short in its introduction of Thorne. When she appears missing, there is no mention of concerned family members, and the Wakandans just release her back to her “normal” life without much said. Is this the end of Riri in the Wakanda universe? We’ll have to wait and see.
Because of the groundbreaking success of the first film, comparisons are to be expected. And while the sequel is good in its own right, it lacks the charisma and humor that its predecessor maintained throughout. But there’s also something to be said about the way each character is grieving in their own way, both in real life and on-screen. And when in the depths of grief, there aren’t many things to laugh about.
As we remember T’Challa and the life of Chadwick Boseman, the film’s end lives up to its name, Wakanda Forever. With a delightful surprise, it breaks the melancholy mood and reminds us that the Black Panther will forever live on.
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