It’s no secret that the successor to one of Marvel’s most acclaimed films, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, felt like it had too many obstacles in its path. From lead actor Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing, from issues with its new lead, Letitia Wright, who plays Boseman’s sister Princess Shuri. With the project putting out one fire after another, it felt like a miracle to get to the day of its release. However, the question remained of how would director and writer Ryan Coogler craft a new direction for the Black Panther with its leader now with the ancestors, in the film and in real life. Brilliantly, Coogler sought a new vision, one where the women who helped create the world of Wakanda take center stage.
Wakanda Forever uplifts the Black women who have been fighting alongside T’Challa from the very beginning, while also introducing new heroes to the Marvel Universe. It is a sequel that, beyond the grief that leaves a rightful shadow, creates a new but necessary perspective on the Black panther: anyone, of any gender, can be the protector of this beloved realm. This focus solely on Black women leading the charge, is one that has yet to be fully seen within the MCU, but Black Panther feels completely up to the task.
When the film begins, we see our new central character on full display, Princess Shuri, as she desperately tries to save King T’Challa. She’s not only fighting to revive the Black Panther, but more importantly, her brother. However, the audience is well aware how this opening scene will end, as a teary-eyed Queen Ramonda, played masterfully by Angela Bassett, comes to relay the news that the King has passed on. It is from this poignant scene that these two women are the rulers of Wakanda now, stepping into protector roles for the nation they love fervently. Furthermore, they are also the last surviving members of their family. How they carry the grief of losing a father, brother, and son permeates throughout the film, pushing them to lean on each other as their citizens grieve as well.
Wakanda, despite the mantle of the Black Panther historically passed onto the male heirs of their kingdom, is heavily reliant upon its female leaders and warriors. However, as highly regarded and skillful as they are, the film follows the trope of Marvel films where the men in the room are the ones that will ultimately save the day. As the entire world began to mourn the loss of Boseman, they also mourned the potential of Marvel’s first Black avenger. When we as a community have fought so hard for this representation, a divine act taking it all away felt like a loss too hard to bear. Who could take on the mantle that is the Black Panther, especially when the role felt enshrined to Boseman? As no one foresaw this coming, everything fell to a standstill of how to proceed with a story that was still unfolding. Who does the Black Panther leave behind to carry on his legacy?
The answer did not seem clear to many, how does one continue a journey when the leader cannot move forward too? Although Chadwick is no longer with us, Wakanda lives on, sustained by the characters who helped build the Black futurist society as much as he did. While a new Black Panther was crowned, it was not in the traditional approach mainstream media has acclimated viewers to before. Instead of granting it to the next lead male character, or reviving the fan-favorite villain Killmonger, Coogler looked to the Black women who were instrumental to the worldbuilding of Wakanda that aided in its success. Shuri, to save her kingdom as the last ruler, takes it upon herself to be Wakanda’s savior, and is further uplifted by majority Black female minor heroes as well.
In fact, there are no new male heroes to fill the superhero film with traditional masculine hero archetypes. Instead, we are introduced to Riri Williams, aka Ironheart, a Black female tech prodigy who is destined to carry on Ironman’s legacy. Alongside her, we shift focus onto old characters such as T’Challa’s love interest, the international spy Nakia, and General Okoye, who gains more power as she emerges as the Midnight Angel. Together, these women take on the vibranium-herelading Namor and his mightiest soldiers, thwarting his attempt to force Wakanda to join his mission to “burn the world.” Although Shuri may not have been the original vision for Black Panther, what her rise to the occasion means for Black women in film cannot go unnoticed. By being only the second Marvel film to be spearheaded by a woman, is it a testimony to the real life Black women who save the world in everyday life.
While director Ryan Coogler wants us to process the loss of our King T’Challa, he simultaneously opens the door for the celebration of new life. One that puts Black women at the focal point, as the ones who can defeat the evil bad guy all on their own. Wakanda Forever is now not only a magnificent send off to a beloved actor and character, but a champion for the atypical hero. As Black Panther made history in its first film for expanding Marvel’s notion of who a superhero can be, the film does it again with its sequel to showcase that Black women have had the power all along.
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