‘Wakanda Forever’ and empowerment; Spike Lee at Soho House Berlin
The latest chapter in the ‘Black Panther’ franchise. Plus, Hanna Flint leads a career talk with the legendary director
Sunday 13 November 2022 By Hanna Flint
It’s been four years since the release of Black Panther, a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is not only unapologetically Black and African, it is also a true celebration of Black women in the comic book landscape.
Ryan Coogler’s first instalment introduced moviegoers to the Dora Milaje, a formidable all-female military outfit – led by Danai Gurira’s General Okoye – who are tasked with protecting the royal family of Wakanda as well as the fictional nation’s interests, both domestic and abroad. Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, was not a damsel-in-distress love interest for the eponymous hero. She navigates the spy game like a pro and could give Black Widow a run for her money while Letitia Wright’s Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, is basically the smartest human being in the world – including Bruce Banner and Tony Stark. And who can forget the regal power of Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda? A commanding, matriarchal presence able to guide and inspire her son when hope seemed lost.
These women brought something to the table beyond serving as plot devices to move the hero’s story forward. Yet, two years later, the cast and crew were faced with unimaginable tragedy – the death of their Black Panther, their T’Challa, Chadwick Boseman. Coogler thought about leaving the industry after his friend’s passing. He’d already begun writing the story for Black Panther 2. ‘The character was going to be grieving the loss of time, you know, coming back after being gone for five years,’ the director told Inverse about the original plot, referring to T’Challa being ‘blipped’ and returning at the end of Avengers: Endgame. ‘As a man with so much responsibility to so many, coming back after a forced five years absence, that’s what the film was tackling. He was grieving a time he couldn’t get back. Grief was a big part of it.’
Grief is a common theme in the superhero genre. It can be the fuel for both heroic and villainous actions such as Wanda Maximoff’s in WandaVision or Thor’s in Avengers: Endgame. With such a terrible loss in real life it only made sense that the theme of grief would stay in play for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. From the very beginning, it provided a space for the actors and the audience to both mourn and celebrate Boseman and the iconic superhero he played.
For the most important women in Black Panther’s life, the female actors exposed so much of that personal pain as they carried the sequel forward. Wright takes on a more central role and delivers a powerhouse performance. Shuri showcases every type of emotion – fury, sorrow, shame, wrath – as she steps up to prevent a new war and protect Wakanda from the underwater threat of Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia). Bassett brings the Shakespearean energy she does so well to a leader tasked with reminding the world that Wakanda is strong as outside forces foolishly think the absence of a Black Panther makes the nation weak.
The Dora Milaje prove just that, as they prevent Western countries from stealing their precious vibranium. Michaela Coel’s introduction as Aneeka is as sharp as her cheekbones while Gurira navigates a tumultuous road for Okoye; fighting to prove herself against super-strengthened opponents from the Deep and her loyalty, dedication and worth to the country she loves.
Nakia proves she can always be relied upon to get the job done and Nyong’o offers a quiet, subtle performance of a lover in mourning. Then we have the arrival of Dominque Thorne as Riri Williams, the 19-year-old wunderkind who brings the laughs, the mayhem and the light at times when things get a little dark. The Black Panther franchise will always be in safe hands with women like these, front and centre.
Spike in the House
It’s not every day you get flown to Berlin to interview Spike Lee in front of 500+ people. Ciclope Festival invited me to host a special hour chat with the iconic filmmaker so for the last three weeks I’ve been busy rewatching his movies in preparation – If you haven’t seen 25th Hour or Bamboozled, make sure you rectify that sharpish. Both films stand up immensely well.
Before the interview I got to have a quick chinwag with Spike at Soho House Berlin so the first time I met him wouldn’t be awkwardly onstage. He’s a big hugger. I think he hugged me four times that day and I could have taken four more. We had a little chat about football – he’s a big Arsenal fan – and agreed that we’d make sure our interview was more like a conversation down the pub, or, you know, a Soho House. And that’s exactly what happened.
He did his usual audience question – ‘Brooklyn in the house’ – and we chatted about his career, making it in the industry and what that takes. So, if you’re in the arts and want to know how to break through, steel yourself. It’s a tough old business and you’ve got to be resilient. Spike certainly knows that better than most.