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A Grief Repurposed in ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’

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EDITOR’S NOTE

This article includes spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

The first words in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever are a prayer. With only darkness on the screen, we hear Shuri plead with the goddess Bast. The brilliant scientist and princess of Wakanda promises to never doubt the Wakandan god’s existence if she’s allowed to save her brother, King T’Challa, the Black Panther. Before Shuri attempts one last ditch effort, her mother, Queen Ramonda tearfully informs her that it’s too late. T’Challa is dead.

The fictional world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was forced to reflect our own world, after the unexpected passing of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer. The real-world grief for the passing of their friend no doubt enhanced the performances of his costars from the initial Black Panther film in this sequel.

While each character grieves the passing of T’Challa differently, Wakanda Forever spends more time with Shuri as she tries to numb her loss with busyness and technology. Her unanswered prayer leads her to reject the faith of her nation and family. In many ways, the film is an exploration of Shuri working through her grief to recapture that faith and its connection to those she’s lost.

Grief can be a stepping stone instead of a stumbling block.

The stated Christian faith of actress Letitia Wright (Shuri) and Boseman provide even more weight and emotion to her character coming to grips with how her spiritual beliefs can give her strength she can’t create through technology. Science may provide the means to acquire power, but it cannot grant the ability to use it well.

Fittingly, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the final movie in phase four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After dealing with the universe-ending threat of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame to close out phase three, the most recent string of Marvel movies has dealt with grief and loss. WandaVision, the first project in the phase and the debut MCU series on Disney+, gave us the classic line: “What is grief if not love persevering?” as Scarlett Witch worked through losing Vision. In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Peter Parker faces the death of his Aunt May. Wenwu allows grief over his wife’s death to consume him and lead him down a dark path in Shang-Chi. And in Thor: Love and Thunder, the most recent MCU movie prior to Wakanda Forever, Thor and Gorr the God Butcher both lose the person they love the most.

Shuri, like the previous MCU phase four characters, must choose whether her grief will force her down the path of vengeance or help her become the person she needs to be. In a vision after gaining the powers of the Black Panther, Shuri sees Killmonger, her cousin and the villain from the first Black Panther film. Like Satan in the wilderness, he tempts her to use her power for selfish ends. Initially, she decides to reject the nobility of her brother and seek revenge on Namor, who had attacked Wakanda and killed Ramonda. Eventually, however, Shuri realizes grief and revenge are two different paths. Ironically, Namor uttered this truth earlier in the film.

Prior to their nations waging war, Shuri and Namor discussed how they could resolve their differences without fighting. As Shuri confessed her feelings of inadequacies over failing to save her brother, Namor reassured her, “My ancestors would often say, only the most broken people can be great leaders.” Grief can be a stepping stone instead of a stumbling block.

Seeing grief and loss as means by which God can shape us into His likeness and better prepare us to serve others is one of the ways we are able to “not grieve like the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). This does not mean we do not grieve at all or go through the normal processes, but it does mean we have hope for what lies beyond the grief—both for our fellow Christians we have lost and ourselves. There is something on the other side of loss. God is working even in the darkest times.

Grief is not God conducting an experiment on us to determine just how much we trust Him, as C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed after losing his wife. But grief can often help us realize areas for growth that were previously unexplored. “[God] always knew that my temple was a house of cards,” Lewis writes. “His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” Yes, grief will often knock down our house of cards, but God is there with us to help us build a much studier structure on a firmer foundation.

Shuri’s prayer to save T’Challa’s life wasn’t answered. That didn’t mean the only path forward was away from faith. By rejecting vengeance and dealing appropriately with her grief, Shuri found new strength and revealed a depth of character. The same can be true for us. In our moments of grief, God may be helping us recognize opportunities for growth. Broken people aren’t automatically good leaders, but broken people who acknowledge their brokenness and trust in their Creator for healing become great leaders.

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Aaron Earls

Aaron Earls is senior writer/editor of LifewayResearch.com and a freelance writer living outside Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and four kids. He earned his M.Div. in Apologetics from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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