Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (2022).
What is a legacy? Who is a legacy?
Director Ryan Coogler was tasked with doing the impossible: give the people a story with a purpose that honored a legacy and gave the audience a chance to say their final goodbyes. And he did just that and then some.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (2022) sees the fictional country continuously challenged as we open with the final moments of Prince T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) life. We watch as Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) have to continue moving forward in their lives and their duties, but they are quickly introduced to a new threat to Wakanda’s safety — the Talokan god named Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía).
“Wakanda Forever” will take you on a whirlwind of emotions; everything from wisps of despair at the opening title sequence to rising fear at the Talokanil siren song to absolute delight at M’Baku (Winston Duke) casually calling Okoye (Danai Gurira) a “bald-headed demon.” But at the very core of this film is a story about grief and how to live through it while also remembering to not lose pride. In the silent moments of reflection on not only Prince T’Challa and his Black Panther, but also on Chadwick Boseman and everything he gave to the world. The pain of losing a young, gifted and Black talent is coupled with the immense pride we hold for him.
“Wakanda Forever” is also a beautifully put together piece of art from a purely cinematic perspective through the use of music and sound.
Marvel movies are no strangers to famous and soaring scores, but composer Ludwig Göransson truly goes all out for this film in order to introduce the new world of Talokan and to elevate themes of identity, struggle and grief.
One of the most notable scenes he is able to completely shape is the final battle where we see Shuri face Namor alone on a desert island. Throughout the match, it is clear how unprepared Shuri is to take on the mantle in the ways her brother once had, and her struggle against allowing her grief and vengeance to completely consume her.
The brutal fight between the God and the new Black Panther leaves the audience holding their breath in anticipation, neither one holding back as they each aim to be the last one standing. As the two exchange blow after blow, Göransson’s score builds in intensity, until finally Namor strikes a deadly blow, driving his spear straight into Shuri.
The score ends almost jarringly as we are left with only the sounds of ragged breathing, a tired heart beat and struggling footsteps. In this very moment, the rest of the world seems to fade away and our two enemies are all that is left. We sit in this natural sounding world for a long minute before we see Shuri’s perseverance as she takes one final moment to gather her strength and finish Namor off.
It is only when Shuri has the blade to Namor’s neck when she makes her final decision to show mercy and listens to what Queen Ramonda always reminded her children of: “Show them who you are.” Shuri leaves the extremes of herself aside and comes to find a middle ground within herself as she understands what must be done. In the end, Namor is spared from death and the world from vengeance.
Throughout the film, Shuri is forced to grapple with the question: who are you when everyone who truly knows you has passed on? She has to learn, alongside her grief, that she is still whole and that those who helped to shape her are never truly gone, but instead rest inside of her.
We are what we create, what we add to our culture and history to enrich and preserve it.
Shuri has always been opposed to the more ancestral and spiritual parts of her culture and, as she points out to M’Baku, called “a child who scoffs at tradition,” but the truth is we see time and time again how she uses technology to protect Wakanda’s legacy. From creating T’Challa’s suit in the first film to recreating the heart-shaped herb in the sequel. Shuri, much like Wakanda herself, represents a blend of tradition and innovation.
In the end, both Shuri and the audience come to realize that we are our past and our future. We are everyone who came before and everyone who will come after. Every person we touch, whether it is heart to heart or a barely there brush of shoulders, is carried with us.
Shuri is her father, her mother, her brother — even her cousin. But she is also her nephew, the new generations of Black Panthers and princesses and everyone else who will ever uphold the Wakandan legacy.
A legacy that is never-ending, even in the face of death.