When I left the movie theatre after seeing “Black Panther” in 2018, I felt like a superhuman general. As I entered the theatre to see the 2022 sequel “Wakanda Forever,” I felt like I was walking into a funeral.
Like many grieving Chadwick Boseman, who died in 2020 of colon cancer, I was prepared to shed some tears. I arrived in an all-white jumper (a color that in many African cultures signals rebirth and veneration/honor of the dead), complete with red, black, and green earrings in respect for the continent I effectively call “the Motherland.” I arrived “in character,” preparing myself for my own personal experiences of grief and loss, as well as the shared grief that is held by fans all over the world.
As a faith leader who is intimate with grief, it’s important to me that this aspect of the human experience is honored fully rather than ignored, explained away, or fixed. As spiritual people, we often like to believe that we can somehow transcend or theorize our grief away. And yet in many cultures, grief itself is a spiritual practice.
I believe honoring grief is what “Wakanda Forever” does best. From my vantage point, this is exactly what fans needed, as well as the characters themselves as they processed the sudden loss of their beloved King T’Challa, played by Boseman.
I believe honoring grief is what “Wakanda Forever” does best.
Besides the obvious funeral service that is shown at the beginning of the movie, the theme of grief is woven throughout the film. Almost every character grieves something, often changing shape as the story unfolds. We see T’Challa’s family grieve, which affects how they communicate, work, love and hope. We watch the kingdom of Wakanda grieve, which drastically impacts their sense of security and understanding of themselves.
Most amazingly, we also see how grief moves women to lead and do what men around them either couldn’t or wouldn’t do. We get to see beautiful, Black women of several different shades on screen who are powerful, vulnerable, emotional, protective, innovative, funny and creative.
In addition, “Wakanda Forever,” introduces us to a new group, the people of Talokan, an indigenous group that deeply grieves the effects of colonization. Their grief leads them to make a life for themselves in the water “below the surface.” In order to protect their resources, Talokan keeps their entire existence a secret. For Namor, their king, grief has made him fiercely protective of his people and suspicious of anything that might threaten what they have built and maintained. When the people of Talokan interact with Wakandans, we get to see several examples of how grief can be protective or destructive. It can make people softer or it can make them very cold.
I am very moved by the story of Talokan. And yet, when Talokan experiences an outside threat from America, they seek to partner with Wakanda, but they lead with violence, essentially saying, “join us or we’ll kill you.” As I processed the movie with friends, some felt this antagonism registered as anti-Black. Namor’s grief is relatable, so it is difficult to see Namor and Talokan depicted as villains. Secondly, the image of two marginalized communities fighting each other on screen is upsetting when White supremacy is the real enemy.
I can easily understand my friends’ reactions. And yet, I always struggle with stories that rush to unity or easy answers. The truth is that the road to solidarity, even between communities of color, is messy. It’s complicated. It’s nuanced. There are many reasons why marginalized people sometimes distrust or misunderstand each other. We have our own pain, histories and things to protect.
What I saw unfold between Wakanda and Talokan did not feel great, but it did feel real. It is a very real depiction of how White supremacy harms us all, how anti-Blackness is global, and how there are things that we all must unlearn and undo in ourselves to truly be present for another.
What I saw unfold between Wakanda and Talokan did not feel great, but it did feel real.
To live as the people of God, we must reckon with this. We must question. We must ache. We must linger in what feels hopeless. And then forge a way forward toward true repair and liberation for all.
No matter what people take away from “Wakanda Forever,” it will remain important to Marvel fans, the Black community and many others for a variety of reasons. Representation is not everything, but it is something. It was truly amazing to see a movie that shows Black women and Black people both grief-stricken and powerful, beautiful and broken, diverse and yet unified. To me, this is a reflection of how God shows up in and through a people. This is something that we can only hope to replicate in our respective places, even through messiness.
God with us: In our particularities. In our Blackness. In our struggle for dignity. In our ancestry. In our grief. Amen.
- What is the true source of the struggle between Talokan and Wakonda? How do we see similar struggles in our history/everyday life?
- How does White supremacy diminish us in our particular context?
- How do we hold each other accountable when it comes to prejudice?
- What do we imagine true alliances to be like?