How The Women Of Wakanda Grapple With Grief & Power In The Black Panther Sequel

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever star Lupita Nyong'o
Mild spoilers ahead. How Black Panther: Wakanda Forever would approach the absence of the king and powerful warrior T'Challa was always in question following the death of the actor who portrayed him, Chadwick Boseman.
But the Marvel sequel unapologetically — and seamlessly — leans into the grief of losing a fearless leader, all the while the women of fictional African country Wakanda must grapple with sadness and rising to the challenge of newfound responsibility. As her grieving mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) becomes queen following T'Challa's death, scientist Shuri (Letitia Wright) must confront the fact that she couldn't avoid her brother's passing, before later having to decide if she'll be inspired by T'Challa's legacy of wisdom, or darker motives.
"In this film, in his (T'Challa's) absence, women are definitely dealing with what it means to lose him and how to move forward," Black Panther: Wakanda Forever actor Lupita Nyong'o tells Refinery29 Australia. "And this film really asks the question, 'How do you move forward when you are faced with tragedy?'"
Image courtesy of Disney
Danai Gurira and Angela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Nyong'o, who plays Nakia in the film, says that the multi-faceted representation of women is one of the movie's greatest assets, allowing audiences to resonate in varied ways.
"You see these women, with very different ideas, struggle and just contend with that question in different ways," she explains. "So what I love about this story is that there's not one representation of a woman, but quite a few, and you get to associate with whomever you want."
Nyong'o acknowledges that T'Challah "was surrounded by powerful women" in the first movie who "really influenced how he saw the world". But while the media can be so fixated on the anomaly of females leading the charge, Nyong'o says it shouldn't be a big deal that women are the face of the sequel.
"What's interesting to me is that when there is a movie for men, they don't get asked that question, 'What is it like for there to be so many men?'," she says.
"In the world of Wakanda, it is not remarkable that there are so many women leading a nation. And I look forward to the time when it’s not remarkable for us either."
She feels similarly about the emphasis placed on race and culture when analysing the success of films. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Nyong'o said that "it’s all too easy as a Black person for the politics of being Black to overshadow the art".
Image courtesy of Disney
Letitia Wright in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Of course, Black Panther has marked a huge moment for Black communities in feeling seen and heard on screen, while challenging the assumption that "black films don’t travel". Nyong'o acknowledges this and assumes responsibility for representing Black women in cinema.
"I accept it," she tells Refinery29. "It’s the nature of being a part of a small group of people who are making a difference or being part of early change or adaption. It comes with the responsibility, so I accept it, but I also work to protect my artistry and allow for myself to make decisions based on art as well politics.
"For me, they go hand in hand and the good thing is that with Black Panther, the very fact that we exist is radical."
Black Panther's box office success "changes the conversation", and Nyong'o hopes it leads to a moment when we won't necessarily be highlighting race, but focusing on films' stories for what they are.
"It changes the expectation of what is expected from our race and culture, and hopefully it’s making a lasting change so that again, it’s not going to be a question," she explains.
"The question need not be whether this story will do well because of the racial demographics of it, because we get to a point where it’s been debunked. And we can go on and just tell really cool stories, and if they don’t work it’s not because they were Black, it’s not because they were Asian, it’s because the story was whack."
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens in cinemas in Australia on Thursday, November 10.
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