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  • Writer's pictureA.K. Lee

Movie Review: Wakanda Forever - The Weight of Grief

A conversation with AK Lee and Robin Mendez.

AK: Robin is a friend of mine and we got to talking a little about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and I asked her to write a joint review with me.

Now, before you read any further, be warned: there will be spoilers.

AK: I had many thoughts while watching Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever, but the overarching one was this: I wish this movie didn’t have to be made.

Don’t get me wrong, it was beautifully made. Queen Ramonda (played by the regal and commanding Angela Bassett) gives much needed gravitas to scenes that would have sounded hokey and smug if played by a lesser actress; Okoye (played by Danai Gurira) exemplifies duty with love and loyalty; Princess Shuri (played by Letitia Wright) undergoes a brutal coming-of-age that no young person should have to endure.

But every scene, every line, every interaction onscreen reminded me of who the world lost in order for this movie to be made.

Even before Wakanda Forever starts playing, a tribute to Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa is presented with his scenes on the Marvel logo. The viewing I went to fell silent immediately as he smiled, fought, strolled, gazed out at us. It was a brutal punch to the heart, and set the tone for the movie.

RM: This moment was the same at our screening. The last time I’ve heard a silence this loud (because yes, silence can be deafening) was at the end of Infinity War, where the audience walked out without speaking. Then it was because no one knew what to say. This time it was because there was nothing to say. The tribute said it all. We lost someone important. We lost someone we loved. We lost someone we needed. There was a woman in the row ahead of me, maybe in her sixties, who hugged herself at that moment and silently sobbed. She wasn’t alone.

The story itself unfolds with King T’Challa’s passing from a mysterious illness, which Shuri, despite all her genius and all her skills and all her technology, could not stave off. Death took the Black Panther from the world; Death took the king from Wakanda; Death took a son from the queen; Death took a brother from Shuri.

Here too is where the silence paid off. The lack of music at times during this and other scenes just serves to reinforce the loss. There is nothing to say and no manipulation of emotions. We all know, in that moment. We are all Shuri, struggling to comprehend. We all wish it was different.

The funeral scene was both heart-wrenching and defiantly, almost furiously celebratory. The dancing was energetic, the drums stirring, and director Ryan Coogler did not shy away from emphasizing how much joy Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa had given his community. As the music is replaced by something more melancholy and we shift into Shuri’s perspective, we are drawn into her anger, her denial, her refusal to fully grieve her brother, who was her protector, inspiration and friend.

I think what Coogler did exceptionally well was the depiction of Shuri’s grief, as well as Queen Ramonda’s grief and fear. As an older woman, I empathize more with Ramonda. She had to carry the weight of the kingdom on her shoulders immediately after losing her son

There have been a few shows lately that have tried to tackle grief and how we process it and by far this movie covered it the best. We all mourned when Chadwick Boseman’s death was announced. We all fought against accepting it and denied it had happened. Or at least I did. I don’t think anyone was ready to say goodbye, then or even now. There wasn’t a single person in our showing who didn’t cry during T’Challa’s funeral, during the tribute, during Ramonda’s death (and can I make a complaint about Disney and their need to kill off mothers in stories), during the final scene before the credits aired. We were all given our chance to say goodbye whether we wanted to or not. I can still see the woman sitting near me, crossing her arms to signal wakanda forever as the credits began before bolting from the room in tears.

I remember when the news popped up on Twitter, I was in full denial too. It hurt so much, and I know it hurt a lot more for the Black community. I wholeheartedly agree with stopping the Disney need to kill mothers. We don’t need to pile trauma on top of trauma, dammit! The last prolonged moment of grief before the credits was almost like closure, but in a sense my closure came through sitting through this movie.

Each character's way of handling grief felt valid as well. Ramonda is a queen and as such can’t let it show as much as she wishes she could. The moment between her and Okoye, after Shuri is taken from her, shows just how little she’s been able to process and move forward, despite what she had told Shuri. Her anger is justified. She’s lost everything and yet she keeps going.

Angela Bassett’s control of the scene was beyond masterful. It was as if the words were wrung from her soul and, in a sense, I think she really drew upon the pain and the heart of everyone who loved and respected Chadwick, who had seen him as a guiding light. So many of them have lost family, and so many keep giving and giving. She keeps going because she has to, and that anger is more than justified. Because a mother should be allowed to grieve her son. I want to shout out Danai’s Okoye too. At first she did not show much more than a crack in her composure, until the scene in the throne room, when you could see the guilt and self-recrimination, when she was reminded of an earlier time when she did not stand by her king and lost him, and she has now lost her. The inflection in their performances made it work powerfully.

Shuri shutting down and becoming lost in her work is realistic. That was me after my mother died. I had to keep moving or else it became too much.

When my father died I wasn’t there, and I had to deal with the bureaucratic fallout afterwards. Yeah, we have to keep going because we have no other option. Can’t stop the world for us to heal, you know? All I wanted to do was make things right, but there is no making it right because the person isn’t there anymore.

And for Shuri it’s even more important. She was the one who wanted to save her brother and in her eyes failed. That carries a weight that can and will tear you apart. Her refusal to see her family when she went to the ancestral plane is a conscious choice. She wasn’t ready. She might never be ready. And that’s okay. Shuri seeing Killmonger after taking the herb made sense to me. She was angry and she wasn’t ready to cope with any of the losses she had faced. She wanted revenge but she also needed to hear the truth and Erik was the best one for that. It helped her decide who she not only wanted to be but needed to be.

It’d have been cheap and insulting if they had CGI’d Chadwick into this movie, to be honest. It would have been a disaster. I’m very thankful that we did not get fake Chadwick. And the fact that we can see Shuri’s rage and desire for vengeance evident in the form of Killmonger was a refreshing choice for a female character. Yes, a heroic woman can indeed want to inflict pain on the ones who wronged her. It was good to see that fury instead of a sanctified and forced forgiveness. Kukulkan/Namor had that same fury, but hardened and honed over centuries.

I did quite enjoy the parallel between Wakanda and Talokan. These were both groups of people who faced colonization and destruction, who did what they had to do to protect themselves, one by closing themselves off and hiding from the world and the other by removing themselves to a place where they could be safe. Getting to see children in both places drives the point home. Whatever happens will affect their future more than anyone. I personally would love to see a more genuine friendship develop between the two nations and see an exchange of ideas and knowledge; there was a moment, when Shuri was moving about among the people of Talokan that felt like she might be willing to stay, if only for the learning opportunities.

If we’re talking parallels, I also like the choice of Haiti as a location, another colonized land that does not have the resources of Talokan or Wakanda. Like, when you don’t have vibranium or cutting-edge technology or a mutant god, what can you do to improve life for your people? Education, community, heritage… It was a lovely touch to have Nakia in that role of provider, even though I wish we had a lot more Nakia.

I loved the moment in the UN when the mercenaries were brought in and it’s a specific call out of the actions of the past in our world. It was subtle and direct; if you don’t want to know or think about it, it’s completely possible to skip right past. But it’s there and it’s not going away and it needs to be said.

Watch it go right over the heads of the people who need to get it, though. On the whole I think the movie was quite good, though I didn’t enjoy the whole CIA subplot that unnecessarily complicated matters. And I wish we either had Riri's Ironheart in a separate show or involve her more in the main story. She felt superfluous at times, even though she’s the reason for Kukulkan/Namor contacting Wakanda.

I agree with the CIA parts. I know they were included because it was required and it’s setting up the next phase, but I wish this movie just could have been about Wakanda and its people and how they moved forward.

Part of me also wishes we had introduced Kulkulkan/Namor in a separate movie, like an origin story sort of deal. It made very little sense, narratively speaking, for him to share his life story with someone he just met. And the invasion of Wakanda felt weak when he backed off. He could have sealed the deal completely and destroyed Wakanda. That muddled his motivation, in my view. On a side note, Tenoch Huerta kills it as Kukulkan/Namor. There is a sense of wonder and authority in equal measure when he interacts with Ramonda and Shuri, and a genuine love of his subjects. Incredibly sensitive portrayal. The last stretch of the movie didn't work that well in terms of his characterization, though it did establish why Shuri could be the new leader of Wakanda.

I wonder if Namor hadn’t truly expected Ramonda to willingly sacrifice her life for Riri, an unknown, and if maybe seeing Shuri so distraught made him take a step back. This is just the fic writer in me probably projecting because that scene broke me and might make it impossible for me to rewatch this movie anytime soon.

Oh, there is no way I am rewatching this without a lot of emotional buffering ahead of time. Just the opening sequence of the funeral procession is enough to make me tear up.

Nothing in this movie surprised me and that’s a good thing. M’baku supporting Shuri felt natural and his talks with her felt heartfelt.

M’Baku stepped up into the role of big brother in his own way and I enjoyed that. It was good to have someone provide that support for Shuri, different from T’Challa and still giving a sense of protective watchfulness over her. I do think it would have made sense to have Nakia and Shuri interact earlier in the story; it seems false to her character that Nakia would not have come to comfort Ramonda and Shuri in the moment of their deepest pain.

I do wish Nakia had been in the movie more too. I understand the choice not to utilize her at times, but there could have been a longer conversation at the end with Shuri about why and about what she and Ramonda discussed. Honestly, Nakia staying away would have made more sense if she was pregnant, since her distance would be to protect her son. Everything else except for Shuri ignoring her calls felt wrong. Ramonda could have mentioned in passing even that they had seen each other and talked.

Right? It was as if no one wanted to mention the woman T’Challa was so deeply in love with, like her grief was less than Ramonda’s or Shuri’s, somehow. It would have been good to see her at the start, even if she just locks eyes with Ramonda for a moment before she goes away. That would have been very powerful too.

Especially after the reveal of Toussaint. I personally love the inclusion of Toussaint, son of T’Challa, because it feels like the best way to move forward. To recast a part that Chadwick had such an influence on felt wrong; but so too did the thought of just letting T’Challa, who was important to so many, to just be gone forever. So by having Toussaint, who was really named after his father, felt like a happy middle ground. T’Challa gets to live on, as a different person of course, but Chadwick’s memory gets to remain. The Black Panther will never truly die.

Wakanda Forever.

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