Learning to Say Goodbye (Wakanda Forever)

When Black Panther was released in 2018, I saw it six times in theatres with a friend. Every time I went people clapped at the end. Every time went there was someone crying when Kilmonger died. There was never someone who held a straight face when M’Baku made the cannibal joke. But most importantly, there was something in the silence. The absolute quiet save for the soft intakes of breath when we were shown Wakanda for the first time. A place where black people were thriving free of racism and oppression. Allowed to just be people. It was such an exquisite pain to be given that notion, especially when it seems it can only exist in fantasy for most of us.

Black Panther gave us hope that we could get the Marvel treatment and we proved that we were a viable market if you provided us movies that weren’t afraid to be explicitly Black. That we want to see these moves, that even others want to see these types of movies. That you would not lose any demographic if you just let it happen. Black Panther was now placed as one of the highest-grossing Marvel Movies, one that people did not stop talking about for a while…

And then…

Chadwick Boseman died at the young age of 43 due to an undisclosed battle with cancer. He suffered in silence and continued to work, never once letting on that our King, that our T’challa would never see the full length of his reign. This was his last video… visibly ill but still chose to speak on social justice during the pandemic. Because that’s the type of person he was…

The Black Community was devastated and the future of Black Panther was in question.

I’d wanted to write about Black Panther in depth a long time ago, but it felt like all that could be said had been said about it and I didn’t have the appropriate words.

Now that Wakanda Forever is released, I feel like I have something to say.

I’ll attempt to keep the spoilers to a minimum but there will be some that slip through.

In the opening of the movie, you witness the loss of T’challa in full force. It did not gloss over it, it didn’t explain in dialogue why T’challa is gone. No. It showed you why and gave it the respect it deserved and honestly I teared up immediately. It was followed by a silent Marvel logo dedicated solely to T’challa and Chadwick Boseman. The silence was quite literally defining and we (my friends and I) were crying as it flashed across the screen. This set the tone for the entire movie.

Wakanda Forever is, at its core, a memorial. It was an invitation to the Black Community who had fallen in love with the World of the Black Panther to grieve their hero. To go through the denial, the anger, and the pain of losing something so important to us and just how much we try to push that grief onto everything else.

Even with the opposition — the empire of Talokan — being richly fleshed out and able to stand alone, I still felt were a tool of grieving. They forced the characters to push through, namely Shuri. The incidents with Namor and Talokan were the catalyst she needed to work through the complicated fury she suffered with being the most intelligent person in Wakanda and yet still be a helpless child in the face of something bigger than her. That being an enemy empire… and the sickness that took her brother. It truly highlighted how young Shuri is and the responsibility were things she could not yet handle as she couldn’t even grieve her mother properly. She is faced with further loss and further expectations to the point where it threatens to turn her into something she isn’t and something her brother would never want her to be.

The complexity of coming to terms with death, loss, and sheer hopelessness was explored surprisingly well in a Marvel Film and I feel that that’s what sets Black Panther apart from the MCU. Twice has it told its own story. Twice has it dealt with a narrative that mirrors the real world. And Twice has it told you… it’s going to be okay.

When Shuri sat in silence I sat with her. We sat and we remembered every moment, every smile, every fun and silly thing. The way it made me feel the first moment when Wakanda appeared. And the moment he held me captive in a way that other superheroes had not. As the fabric burned, it was understood that I would never see this man on screen ever again. I would never see what he would be. But, he left something very important with me in the same way he left something important with Shuri.

He left his hope.

The legacy he left behind is not righteous anger, it’s not complex sadness, nor a forgetful apathy towards another star gone too soon. He left hope and love. Things that were imprinted deep in the telling of Wakanda Forever as it grieved to finality and said it’s okay to let go of him now because he was not the beginning or the end. He was just a single, grand step towards something beautiful that can and, with a lot of hope and love, will come.

I personally loved this movie. I could critique the things that were weak. I critique the things that were not quite together. I could critique a few parts that were a bit messy. But… I don’t want to. Because I feel like those things that didn’t quite work actually added to the film. It added to the feeling of what are doing now? What are we going to do? How do we move forward? Where are we going? And I think this sort of chaos within the narrative made the grieving much more real. After all, the world does not stop when you lose someone.

I was happy and humbled to experience the return to Wakanda. To be allowed to revisit how much it hurt without glossing over it with a little movie magic or shitty CGI. Wakanda Forever gave the feelings I had the respect they deserved and I am eternally grateful to Ryan Coogler and the entire cast and crew for bringing this labor of love and pain to me.

But most of all, thank you to Chadwick Boseman for giving me the chance to see the strength and vulnerability of Blackness represented so beautifully on screen.

Thank you… and Goodbye.

I’m satisfied to close this chapter.

-Stay Well-Read-


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