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On 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s' Theme of Legacy

From Chadwick Boseman's death to Shuri's rise as the 'Black Panther,' the constant theme of legacy is something Ryan Coogler embraced.

Editor's note: Spoilers are ahead.

"We are a continuum. Just as we reach back to our ancestors for our fundamental values, so we, as guardians of that legacy, must reach ahead to our children and their children. And we do so with a sense of sacredness in that reaching." -Paul Tsongas, US Democratic Senator (Feb. 1941- Jan. 1997)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever exemplifies Tsongas' statement of life and legacy as a continuum. When beloved actor Chadwick Boseman died in 2020, it was unclear what would become of Prince T'Challa, one of his most iconic characters. The continuum of one of the most successful Marvel Studios franchises was at stake. However, even as details for how director Ryan Coogler would rewrite the sequel to Black Panther were kept under wraps, it was clear that Boseman and T'Challa's legacy would be integral to the plot.

From the opening credits which feature images of Boseman as T'Challa--it is clear that the goal is to recognize and uphold his legacy. As Princess Shuri scrambles to find a cure for T'Challa's unnamed illness--and fails. Her storyline centers on what her role is in the legacy of the Black Panther. In a unique twist, the responsibility of the throne did not occur in succession to Shuri, but to her mother Queen Ramonda, again, reiterating the idea of the continuum which can both move forward and reach back in times of need.

Related: Interview: ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Stars Lupita Nyong’o And Danai Gurira Share How Chadwick Boseman Influenced The Franchise’s Success
One of the most prevailing themes in the film is grief.

"The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost." Five Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kubler Ross & David Kessler

As Queen Ramonda and Princess Shuri sit in a quiet place and intend to burn their burial robes, Shuri--who has lost much of the lightheartedness that she had in the first film, reveals that in her grieving, she is also angry. Shuri is filled to the brim with rage, and this rage is so powerful that it ultimately comes dangerously near to engulfing her in the same way it did her cousin Eric, also known as Killmonger. Or as it has with Namor, who was driven by both sadness and rage.

"If I sit and think about my brother for too long, it Won't Be Just These Clothes I Burn - It Will Be The World." she says to her mother before being interrupted by her introduction to Namor.

In the film, Shuri must decide whether to carry on the tradition of peace and acceptance established by her mother and brother or to follow the path paved by her cousin, whose desire for vengeance led to his own tragic end. Killmonger asked her bluntly, “Are you gonna be noble like your brother or take care of business like me.” For much of the film, she vacillates between the two. Only when she hears the voice of her mother echoing her own from the previous film saying, "Show them who you are," is she reminded that the true legacy of the Black Panther is showing grace to those who least deserve it.

“Yield.” —Shuri to Namor

In carrying on the legacy of Kubler Ross' groundbreaking work on grief, years after her death, her co-author David Kessler wrote that there is a sixth stage--finding meaning.

This is also evident in Wakanda Forever.

"The World Has Taken Too Much From You." -  M'Baku To Shuri In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Shuri travels through the five stages clumsily, but when she finds her authentic voice and true vision she also finds meaning in the losses of her loved ones. She, and the audience, begin to understand that while it was said in the first film--it is demonstrated in the second: no one person is greater than Wakanda. The leader is the person on the throne, but the legacy is in the country and in its people.

This is a lesson that Namor learns as well. Motivated by his own anger, he also learns that there is meaning in the hard times, telling Shuri, “My ancestors would often say only the most broken people can be great leaders.” In the film, he isn’t proven wrong—in fact, the statement may be a continuous idea carried on from the first film. However, instead in both films, the protagonists overcome their pain and find what lies beneath—peace.

“In the depths of the ocean, I brought the sun to my people.” -Namor

Letitia Wright (_Shuri_) and Tenoch Huerta (_Namor_)

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