Expectations for Wakanda Forever, the sequel to 2018’s Black Panther, were arguably higher than any other Marvel movie released in the past 2 years. Inspiring a celebration of African culture and heritage while repositioning the continent as a futuristic eutopia, it allowed people of colour a rare opportunity to see themselves portrayed in a positive, celebratory and inspiring light in a globally recognised franchise from a major studio. While not ignoring or diminishing the incredible contributions of the rest of the cast, a lot of this was attributed (by the public) to Chadwick Boseman and his tragic loss was bound to have a huge impact on the blockbuster’s sequel.
In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Marvel wisely chose to embrace the loss of the actor who played T’Challa by incorporating his death into the movie in a respectful, sensitive manner that became a linchpin of the thematic plot of the movie.
While Wakanda Forever has all the hallmarks of a big-budget Marvel movie, i.e. impeccably striking outfits, impressive CGI, stunning locations, and all the big fight scenes you could hope for, the central theme is one of loss.
The movie follows Shuri (played by Guyanese-British actress, Letitia Wright) as she mourns the loss of her brother (played by Chadwick Boseman). We see her struggle to process her grief in a very personal, poignant manner as she progresses through various stages of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) with most of the focus initially on her denial and then shifting to all-consuming anger as she faces an unexpected loss that completely destroys the last vestiges of hope she had.
If this sounds rather emotionally heavy and intense, that’s because it is. While Wakanda Forever has its share of incredible fight sequences and great comedic timing from Okoye (played by Danai Gurira American-Zimbabwean actress) and Riri Williams (played by American actress Dominique Thorne), it’s ultimately a movie about trying to find your sense of self when you’ve lost everything that truly mattered.
This theme is echoed by Namor (played by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta) the so-called protagonist of the movie as he battles to find and preserve not only his identity but that of his people as well. Despite his understandable desire to not have his people and their culture subject to the colonialist tendencies of Western governments, something Wakanda’s Queen Ramonda (played by American actress Angela Bassett) accused France and the USA of during a UN like scene towards the beginning of the movie when she stated that Western governments only cared about Wakanda when they discovered a valuable resource (Vibranium) that they wanted for themselves, Disney has chosen to portray him as a villain.
The idea of a person of colour being pitted against other people of colour for merely trying to defend their people’s history and identity from being stolen is one that left many of us who attended the screening feeling more than a bit uncomfortable, because, despite his actions, Namor isn’t the bad guy here. The decision to portray him as one seems to fly in the face of the anti-colonialist positioning of the Black Panther series and appears to ignore the very blatant, self-aggrandising, colonialist culture of Western nations and the CIA in the movie.
Combined with the staccato, faux-African accents from the majority of the leading actors and actresses in the movie and one begins to wonder whether this franchise is truly a celebration of African culture and Afrofuturism or whether it’s a black movie made for white people in the same vein that people have accused Bros of being a gay movie for straight people.
Had Disney/Marvel invested in Africa by actually filming parts of the movie here, not just the scenic drone cutaways, and included more actors from the continent in leading roles, they may have mitigated these feelings that a number of us had when leaving the screening. As glad as I am to see more diversity and people of colour on screen, there is more to be done and right now this feels all to similar to Disney’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it LGBTQ moments which they love to tout as being inclusive but in reality are whitewashed (straightwashed?) perfunctory, easily-removable-so-as-to-not-upset-certain-human-rights-violating-countries, that is more about lip service than anything truly meaningful and impactful.
Ultimately, despite its beauty, Wakanda Forever is predictable and expected in its formulaic approach that borrows the same tricks employed in Spiderman: No Way Home by playing on the public’s heartstrings.
Despite these deeper questions and concerns, there’s no doubt that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will do well at the box office, and with the mid-credits scene setting up the continuation of the franchise, this success looks to continue for a few more years.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is currently in cinemas around the country.
Everything’s Gonna Be Alright: Wakanda Forever review
Surface level appeasement
Disney needs to do better when it comes to meaningful inclusion and representation and they need to put its money where its mouth is.
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