Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” ably deals with the death of T’Challa/Black Panther, providing a messy explanation for the succession of leadership and introduces a new African American character and a Latino adversary who is dangerous but not evil. Coogler who is credited with the story and who wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole (“Black Panther” and the 2016 “The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story) doesn’t deal with the hubris of 2018 “Black Panther” nor heed the current racial climate of the nation and continue this saga as a superhero story of Black superiority. But is Black superiority any better than White superiority?
If you recall from the first film, the Wakanda king, T’Chaka (John Kani) was killed. Upon his death his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is then set to assume the throne, but is.challenged by the Jabari tribe’s leader M’Baku (Winston Duke). Although he defeats M’Baku, he will later be challenged by his cousin Erik “Killmonger” Stevens. Killmonger’s father, N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) wanted to share Wakanda’s technology with other people of Sub-Saharan African descent globally in order to help end their oppression. N’Jobu was killed by T’Chaka. Killmonger reveals that his Wakandan name is N’Jadaka and he seriously wounds T’Challa and kills Zuri (Forest Whitaker) who was the keeper of the heart-shaped herb which gives Black Panther his superhuman power. Killmonger then ingests the herb, but destroys the remaining plants although Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa’s former lover manages to extract one. T’Challa is aided by the Jabari. Nakia and his youngest sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett) also seek shelter there. Healed with the help of the herb Nakia preserved, T’Challa returns to battle Killmonger. Killmonger chooses to die rather than be healed and live imprisoned. At the end, T’Challa decides to build the first Wakandan International Outreach Center in Oakland.
Oakland is 34 percent White alone, 22 percent Black or African American, 15.8 percent Asian alone and 27 percent Hispanic or Latino.
Outside of these battles for succession, T’Challa is also pursuing a South African black market arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) from the 2015 “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” who is working with Killmonger. In this film, Klaue and his cohort Killmonger first pop up in London where they steal a Wakandan artifact from a museum. This is where CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) is seriously wounded. Ross is taken to Wakanda and cured. Klaue then appears in Busan, South Korea and is pursued by T’Challa, T’Challa’s bodyguard Okoye (Dalai Gurira), and Nakia. Klaue supposedly means to sell the artifact to Ross. The question, of course, is why go to South Korea to sell something to a CIA agent because South Korea and South Koreans have no part in this story except to serve as a foil for demonstrating the unbelievable linguistic skills, bravery and battle readiness of the Wakandans. Mandatory military service doesn’t serve the East Asians who appear because not one of them attempts to be involved in the casino battle. Rich people without bodyguards and a casino without enforcers or beefy bouncers. This South Korean episode was very questionable plotting but shows that African Americans, like White Americans, are perfectly willing to use East Asia as exotic background with collateral damage has no repercussions or respect for the culture. Instead of rooftop Koreans with guns, we get screaming, running, cowering East Asians and others.
- ‘Black Panther’ Marvel-verse Best, But Also Displays Covert Racism Toward Asians
- ‘Black Panther’: Asians Thrown Under the Bus in Busan
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three: Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter), Best Original Score (Ludwig Göransson) and Best Production Design (Hannah Beachler for production design and Jay Hart for set decoration). At the time (2018), Boseman was 42 and Wrights was 25.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
In “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” the focus is on Shuri. She’s in her lab, trying to find a solution that will save her brother who is gravely ill. We don’t see T’Challa and neither does Shuri, who despite being told that her cure has less than a 30 percent chance of efficacy, remains in her lab instead of going to her brother’s side. As fitting for a king, the whole community mourns and a wall within the kingdom prominently displays a portrait of T’Challa, but Ramonda becomes queen–not queen mother, but queen. And everyone of those five tribes of Wakanda is okay with that.
A year later, Ramonda appears with her retinue in a way that I don’t think any other royalty would, at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. This is very different from T’Challa’s speech at the United Nations at the end of the first film where he said, “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers.” In this film, there was an attempt to raid a Wakanda Outreach compound in Mali by a member nation of the UN in search of Vibranium weapons. Ramonda brings the captured soldiers and leaves the assembly. Mali is a landlocked West African country, the eighth largest in Africa and its official language is French.
Instead of attacking Wakanda, other nations attempt to find Vibranium elsewhere. In this case, there’s an expedition exploring in the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Vibranium is detected, but the expedition is attacked. The suspicion around the world is the Wakandans committed this attack, but the audience knows this isn’t true. A man with wings out of his ankles leads an army of blue men and women. They can make a siren call which has a hypnotic effect, causing the crew to walk and fall into the deep sea and drown.
In Wakanda, while on a retreat, Ramonda meets the winged-feet man, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who emerges from a watering hole (much to the alarm of the local elephants) and tells Ramonda to figure out who made the Vibranium detection device which he leaves with them. The device leads Shuri and Okoye (with a little help from agent Ross) to a student at MIT: 19-year-old Riri Williams (Dominque Thorne) who is, as she is portrayed in the comics, African American or “young, gifted and black” and terribly underestimated but makes bucks by doing fellow classmates homework. The actual demographics for the class of 2026 at MIT are 40 percent Asian American, 13 percent Black or African American, 14 percent Hispanic or Latino and 38 percent White. The overall percentages are 29.8 percent international, 28.7 percent White, 19.7 percent Asian American, 9.8 percent Hispanic or Latino, 4.4 percent Black or African American.
Riri îs, like Shuri, also a genius and also works alone. Whatever happened to geeks spending hours together at cons or playing dungeons and dragons and who works on large mechanical devices alone? Riri uses a very spacious industrial garage for her projects and super encrypted computers, but the US government surrounds the buildin. Shuri, Okoye and Riri must make an escape but ultimately, Shuri and Riri are abducted by Namor. Namor takes them to Talokan, an ancient underwater civilization with a language that is Yucatec Mayan based. Namor tells Shuri about how his people escaped enslavement at the hands of the conquistadors by taking an herb and transforming into blue-skinned gilled people. Because Namor was only partially formed in his pregnant mother, he was born a mutant–neither human nor gilled. A dying Catholic priest cursed him, calling him “El Niño sin amor” and that’s how he became Namor although his people call him K’uk’ulkan, after the feathered serpent god.
Namor invites the Wakandans through Shuri to join him in his fight against the people who seek to discover and exploit Vibranium. For him, those who are not with him are his enemies. “I need to know if Wakanda is an ally or an enemy.” When Nakia, who had been living in Haiti, comes to rescue Shuri, she kills one of the Talokanil even through the person could have been saved and that is considered an act of war. There will be a war and Shuri will take on the mantel of Black Panther. I don’t think those are plot spoilers.
There’s a lot of senseless violence in this film although the theme is dealing with grief, the actions spread more grief to others. While the words spoken indicate an equal respect between the Wakandans and Talokanil, the screenplay doesn’t actually treat the two sides equally. The audience only learns the story of Namor yet gets little background on the other main Talokanil such as the warrior Namora (Mabel Cadena) or Attuma (Alex Livinalli). From the production notes, I learned that Attuma is “Namor’s strongest warrior with unbelievable skills, strength and speed.” He is comparable to Okoye. Namora is characterized as “fierce” and “determined to protect her people’s land under the sea,” but we don’t know about their families or their loves. The script pays more attention to Ross with some reveals about his personal life. The audience is definitely meant to sympathize with the Wakandans and Riri over the Talokanil but there’s another problem.
Both Shuri and Riri are presented as superior people and the whole theme of the film seems to be Black superiority over a White world, but the world, particularly in terms of technology and biological advances, isn’t strictly White. Think of the technological giants and innovations coming out of Japan and South Korea, think of the how people of East Asian descent are also making part of the boom in Silicon Valley. Think of the spirit of cooperation that the first film espoused at the end. And think of East Asian and Pacific Island contributions to both films. There’s evidence of their existence, but they are not given their due on the screen.
Question of Cultural Appropriation
According to the production notes, fight coordinator Aaron Toney for Namor used “Lucha Libre and Asian style called Baji that focuses on grounding your body while delivering shoulder strikes, elbow strikes and anything that liberally makes you a tree.” I’m guessing this is bajiquan (八極拳 Bājíquán) which is a Chinese martial arts
This usage and lack of proper acknowledgement for Asian influences should come as no surprise because Chadwick Boseman was also trained in Muay Thai, Ninjutsu and Filipino martial arts as well as Capoeira.
Having British Guyanese actress Wright as the central character also underlines the troubling sentiments brought up by the first “Black Panther” which was also written by Coogler with Cole. By this I mean the treatment of the South Korean characters. Despite two major action sequences taking place in Busan (secret casino and car chase), there are no notable South Korean characters. And yet we know that the main character in “Black Panther” used Asian martial arts in training. And the same is true for this new character, Namor.
Wright brings her own problems to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
In December 2020, Wright shared a YouTube video on Twitter in which Black British citizen Tomi Arayomi accused China of spreading COVID-19 and questioned COVID-19 vaccinations. According to Variety the 69-minute video (which was removed for “violating YouTube’s terms of service”) also included remarks that that questioned climate change and were transphobic. After receiving a negative Tweetstorm reaction, Wright tweeted: “My intention was not to hurt anyone, my ONLY intention of posting the video was it raised my concerns with what the vaccine contains and what we are putting in our bodies. Nothing else.” So she just didn’t mind the negativity cast toward China and its possible effects on the people of East Asian descent not only in the UK, but in the United States and elsewhere?
What should also be noted is the frequency that a prominent role is given to a Black actor in films or TV series that have an East Asian lead, from the animated film version of “Mulan” with Eddie Murphy to the current “Quantum Leap” with Ernie Hudson (“Ghostbusters”) as Dr. Ben Song’s supervisor and head of the Quantum Leap time travel project. Granted this didn’t happen in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” where instead a prominent role is given to a person of Asian Indian descent (Ben Kingsley reprising his role as bad actor Trevor Slattery) and a German-born actor of Romanian descent (Florian Munteanu as Razor Fist).
If the influences of Asian and Pacific Island cultures are being appropriated without any representation and credited to another culture based on another continent, then that seems to be cultural appropriation. Was there no way of portraying Afrofuturism or Latino or Native American culture without the influence of Asian and Pacific cultures? And if one is going to use such influences, shouldn’t we see representation of Asian and Pacific Islanders in prominent roles in the film? With the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, some of which have been committed by Black and African Americans against Asian Americans, there’s a need to give credit and put AAPI faces into movies as acknowledgement instead of simply selling or presenting their cultural contributions as being Black or African or MesoAmerican/Latino. During the Chinese Massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles, the perpetrators were both Latino and Anglo Americans. The issue of “chinos” in Mexico has a long history, one tied in with transpacific slavery and the Philippines. Moreover, there were Chinese massacres in Mexico (Torreón massacre in 1911 which targeted people of Chinese and Japanese descent).
The genetic legacy of the Manila galleon trade in Mexico (18 April 2022)
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a bit muddled on the succession issues and by tooting Black supremacy is grating in the face of unacknowledged Asian and Pacific Island influences in the presentation of both the Wakandan and the Takonil cultures. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” premiered at El Capitan Theatre and the Dobly Theatre in Hollywood on 26 October 2022. It will be released in the US on 11 November 2022 as the final film of the MCU Phase Four.