Wakanda Forever reigns supreme: how the number one movie in the world deals with grief, generational trauma, and love
So far, I’ve seen Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever twice, and both times it’s left an undeniable mark on my spirit. The film is written and directed by Ryan Coolger and it took a sharp turn in direction due to the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, the titular character of the franchise. The new film notably takes on the hard task of moving on without Boseman, who wasn’t just the main star, but as many interviews and podcasts revealed, one of the key drivers of the creative process; the undeniable nucleus of the cast and crew.
Boseman died due to complications of pancreatic cancer in 2020, something he hid from the cast and crew. Despite his suffering, he poured everything he had into creating one of the most compelling superheroes in the MCU, and I dare say, in Cinema. His King T’Challa aka Black Panther became the focal point of a movement – the first big-budget story that spoke to Black empowerment, and a paradigm shift in the industry. For years, marginalized groups were told by Hollywood, unless it was a story of subjugation, trauma, or violence, minority stories would not be a popular draw and would bomb. Marvel took a risk with Ryan Coogler – and paired with Boseman’s tenacity – it paid dividends.
Wakanda Forever opens with a beautiful send-off to Chadwick, and it is undeniable that everyone in those initial scenes was feeling the grief and pain they experienced losing their brother in real life. Those scenes are raw, powerful, and in a way, draw all of the grief and pain of loss that we (the audience) have experienced. during the pandemic. I don’t think I know a single person who hasn’t lost someone suddenly during the last two years. I myself have had to remotely bury many friends and family members during this pandemic, and every cut of grief I experience in the past couple of years bled while watching those scenes.
The movie doesn’t just bare our pain naked and raw. Rather, the narrative of Wakanda Forever challenges us to embrace the pain, feel the grief and put it to rest. It offers a promise that those we have lost are not really gone, they are in our hearts, forever, and their voices speak to us in the wind. They guide us in subtle ways if we purge the pain from our hearts to make room for them to help us heal and move on.
In fact, the film offers us Shuri (T’Challa’s sister played by Letitia Wright), someone who is smart, powerful and so caught up in grief that if she lets herself slip – even just a little bit – she would burn the world to the ground and everyone in it would suffer. Coogler doesn’t shy away from putting Shuri’s rage on display, and Letitia does a wonderful job of making us feel her pain and anger. Together, Coogle and Wright hold a lesson of healing in Wakanda Forever so that we the audience learn how powerful it is to use those emotions to our own benefit rather than to our own destruction.
In fact, Shuri’s arc seems so relatable to me, and I am sure to others, as well. She just never seems to catch herself: on the heels of losing her only brother, she loses her beloved mother (Queen Ramonda played by Angela Bassett), and is forced into a leadership she does not want. It’s only when she gives herself the grace to break into pieces, that she is able to see the lessons her brother and mother are teaching her, even in death.
ON GENERATIONAL TRAUMA:
On my second watch, I finally understood what Coogler had been doing with both Black Panther films. In fact, I can say with surety that Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger and Huerta’s Namour are not actually villains, they are anti-heroes. The real villain of the story is the world we live in, its colonialism, and its effect on generations via the trauma it has inflicted; the Black Panther films are designed to break the shackles of that generational trauma and it’s truly done brilliantly.
Firstly, most (if not all) of the narratives around colonization start with the notion that colonists have a divine right to “save the Natives,” and they use that as an excuse to “save” by destroying culture and exploiting its people and resources with an aim to realign the people to the colonist’s ideals.
Both Wakanda and Talokan reject this narrative. They demonstrate that had they been left untouched, Africans and the first nations of South America would have evolved to be more advanced than their colonizers. Black Panther also ran so that stories like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings could walk. Shang-Chi also demonstrates a similar message of prosperity in its depiction of Ta Lo. It is a powerful statement and one that inspires and gives hope.
It’s so important for people to see themselves in stories, and in the media. Science Fiction and Fantasy help people to dream of what could be, and I think about the generations to come after us who will have stories built into their growth showing that we are not just marginalized minorities, but rather diasporic people, rich in culture and purpose. Also, if we allow ourselves to heal from generational trauma and come together united, we can put that energy into building worlds for ourselves like Wakanda, Talokan, and Ta Lo.
In fact, Wakanda Forever tells us that divided, the diaspora will spend its time destroying itself, and this divisiveness is the tool of our oppressors. Both Namour and Shuri realize this – and while they have more growth to do, each of them is left with their emotional wounds beginning to heal. Healing allows us to move past being survivors of colonialism, and into authors of our destiny and power.
This film also gives representation to South Americans in a beautiful and powerful way. After the first Black Panther, Black people walked away more united. No matter where we lived in the world, our hearts and souls became Wakandan, we had the crossed arms symbol, the battle cry of Yibambe, and the promise of becoming more Wakandan as time passed. Now, South Americans have the same through Talokan, and it is beautiful.
Coogler challenges what we know of spirituality and offers us a deep connection to our ancestral lore and ritual. For centuries, African descendants have had to hide the practice of our faiths, we’ve had to merge it with Judeo-Christian practices and they’ve morphed over the years into Voodoo, Obeah, Santeria, etc. Even our myths have been buried, in favour of Greco-Romanic lore.
Wakanda gives us permission to celebrate our roots, and it shows us the power of what every African and South American know in our bones – the ancestors never leave us, they are powerful guides that we can access for power.
One of the most powerful parts of holding the title of Black Panther is being able to access the ancestral plane, it is the first thing you do when you get the mantle of power. This is because no matter what physical strength you have, without spiritual guidance, it is simply not effective.
I loved that Coogler also did right by Killmonger, giving him status as a Panther, and one who gives Shuri equal council to that she receives from her mother later in the film. He shows us that while Killmonger’s methods were flawed, his reasoning wasn’t and that even ancestors can make mistakes. Shuri is able to learn a very valuable lesson from him – her fire can raze the world or be useful fuel to protect her people.
There is also a powerful spiritual connector that makes Nakia (played by Lupita Nyong’o) choose Haiti as the place to raise her son. It also gives an important clue into the future of the Black Panther line. In the canon of the MCU, T’Challa means “he who put the knife where it belonged” – Boseman’s T’Challa was a subtle knife, however, I am willing to wager, by giving her son the Haitian name of Toussaint (who was the revolutionist and emancipator of Haiti), his T’Challa will be more of a sword against the tyranny that will come to Wakanda and Talokhan in the search for Vibranium. It also sets up Shuri and M’Bakku (played by Winston Duke) as stewards of Wakanda and the Black Panther mantle for Young Toussaint T’Challa.
The other thing that should be noted is the relationship between our ancient Gods and how they share their power with their avatars so they can rule and protect. Namour and Shuri are avatars of their Gods, and it harkens to a lot of traditions from Tribal Africa and South America. Our people are not mindless servants of a God, rather we mount them to us and bend them to our purpose – there’s more of a symbiosis to our relationships with spirituality than a dictum and that needs to be recognized.
All of these elements have deep spiritual connections, and there are no coincidences in this storytelling.
There’s so much love in this film, and it also shows the world how beautiful and complex the family bonds of African and South American people are.
The Wakandans used the words mother, sister, and brother freely – Ramonda wasn’t just T’Challa and Shuri’s mother, she was the Mother of Wakanda, something which she demonstrated as being more powerful than just being a queen, this role was something she was willing to die for.
The way that M’Baku softened from his first appearance, and grew to love and guide Shuri now that her brother was gone, was masterful. Nakia, Shuri, and Okoye had a sisterhood that proved stronger than blood bonds. At the end of the film, RiRi Williams (played by Dominique Thorne) was Wakandan, and Shuri’s sister was established, further showing the flexibility of the word family and how it opened beyond the traditional nucleus. What intrigues me is that I’ve tried to explain my family dynamic to North Americans – and they never quite get that family a bond, not blood. I see now how this is such a vital characteristic we take from Africa and it’s something I am proud of.
Likewise in Talokhan, they were tribal. Namour was the first son and father of his tribe and you could not tell which Talokhanians were blood relatives or not because they always operated as one unit. When one died they all felt tremendous pain, and they fought – and most importantly played – as a single unit. The latter became evident to me the second time I watched the film; there was a scene where Attuma used his hip to hit a bomb to Okoye in the reflex used Pok-A-Tok – the game that was played all throughout Talokhan, which meant that despite being a fierce general, Attuma played with the people and that fact is very important.
Love, dancing, music, and comradery are the foundations of both Wakanda and Talokhan, and therefore we see no capitalism in either nation – things are given and exchanged freely. No matter the strife of the main characters, they were fiercely protective of their people and I think that is one of the single most important parts of dealing with grief and generational trauma. We must never forget that our actions should be in the protection of and celebration of our capacity to love, dance, sing and pray – because that’s what is important to the growth and building of worlds like we see in the film.
I also want to touch on the fact that queerness is accepted in Wakanda and I would also wager in Talokhan. Historically, queerness has been demonized because of Christian evangelicals and what I love about this film is how nonpulsed everyone is about the love between Ayo and Aneka, two female Wakandan soldiers of the Dora Milaje. In fact, the second time around, I was able to pinpoint that they didn’t just become lovers at the end of the film. In the introduction of Aneka, the banter between them is that of lovers, not just friends. It is known that these two powerful and fierce women are lovers and this is normal. The only thing people are interested in them for is their prowess. This is something I yearn for in the real world, where being queer is not the definition of who we are but rather a smaller facet of the power we bring into the world.
I also need to talk about the love between Namour and Shuri. It’s so beautifully subtle in the film, but let’s be clear, both Namour and Shuri are deeply broken people, and what brings them together to end the cycle of pain is that they were able to find a spark of love between them. In fact, Huerta says in interviews that Wright was critical in helping him bring Namour to life. English is not his first language and she was a constant source of patience and strength that got him to flourish and we see this in the portrayals of the characters. Whether this love between Shuri and Namour is platonic or romantic is yet to be seen. What I can say for certain is that putting down their pain which they wore like armour for the love of self and other people is what will make them such compelling characters going forward.
Overall, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a beautiful exposition on healing grief, generational trauma, spirituality, and love, and everyone needs to see it. If you’re a descendant of the colonizers you should also watch this film as it provides instruction on how to be an ally. More importantly, if you’re a member of the diaspora, and you haven’t seen these films, you need to. If you’ve seen it already, watch it again, and show it to the people you love. It provides healing and direction for what we can build if we move together, releasing ourselves of pain and grief, and moving together in love.