We are about a month away from the release Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and so far even the trailers have made me cry because of the tender and dignified way they show a nation mourning the death of King T’Challa, the Black Panther. Set to a mash-up of Tems’ version of “No Woman No Cry” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” the first trailer has its emotional climax with Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother, declaring, “Didn’t I give it my all?”
Ramonda’s grief—poignant and piercing—mirrors our grief over the loss of Chadwick Boseman, whose work on and off the screen elevated and celebrated black life before he died of cancer at just 43. In response to black PantherBoseman chose to become an avatar of “black male dignity” and welcomed being a symbol for black men who needed someone to look up to. In the first trailer for Wakanda forever, T’Challa’s death looms over Wakanda just as Boseman’s death looms over the sequel’s premiere. Who can accelerate with the gravity needed to fill T’Challa’s shoes?
What about Michaela Coel? Please understand: I have no proof that Coel will be the next Black Panther. But I convinced myself that it would. Let me present my evidence.
First of all, Shuri is too obvious. She is the most direct candidate. Everyone thinks it will be Shuri. Some people think the new trailer even confirms that it’s Shuri (they’re wrong). And I get it: It’s true that audiences fell in love with Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister and the genius behind many of Wakanda’s scientific and technological innovations.
Shuri is great! But even though it has some impressive fight scenes black Panther, Shuri is not positioned as a warrior. It’s possible that the Black Panther title could fall to her immediately upon T’Challa’s death – but even if she does, first black Panther already established the process by which Wakanda’s tribes can fight for the title of Black Panther, so making Shuri the default Black Panther would be too obvious. I can’t imagine a bigger disappointment than Wakanda forever brings a clear answer. Why would director Ryan Coogler spend so much time in the first film laying out the Wakandan rules for the Black Panthership dispute, and then not use those rules when the role becomes available?
Off-screen, there’s also the tricky matter of Wright’s reported anti-vax views. Far from being the only celebrity to articulate such thoughts, she plays a character that is expressly about celebrating scientific achievements. Shuri’s promotion to Black Panther may draw unwanted attention to Wright’s comments, and really just speculating that she’s a successor has fans upset.
Second, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the casting of Michaela Coel. She is referred to only as “Aneka, the Wakandan warrior”. At first glance, this is not unusual – a lot of characters are added to the cast with a brief description. But Coel just is too big to be added to an already star-studded film as a distant, insignificant character. Since her breakthrough with Gum and universal acclaim for her Emmy Award-winning HBO show I can destroy you — which she wrote, directed and starred in — Coel proved she had the acting charisma to carry the mantle. Aneka’s vague description only serves to raise further questions. What is Coel doing in this movie? I’ll tell you what he does: He’s ANOTHER BLACK PANTHER.
Third, Coel is on the cover of the November issue Fashion! A month before release Wakanda foreverCoel is the only star of the film on the cover of a major magazine. In the accompanying Vogue profile, Coel reveals new details about her character, the strange woman and combat instructor. Coel is an odd choice for a cover star – this is a cast that boasts Oscar-caliber household names like Bassett and Lupita Nyong’o! His extremely interesting that it fell to Coel to carry the film’s promotional weight.
I’m right about this. I’m excited about it too! Coel’s skills as an actor would have elevated the role as much as Boseman’s — recall that black Panther is the only Marvel film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar — and would cement the franchise’s role as a transformative moment for Blackness. If I’m wrong when the movie comes out please don’t come for me because I’ll find out the same day you do. But that won’t be necessary. ●
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