Black Panther and the Relationships That Shape Us


Spoilers Ahead

Believe the hype — it’s real, it’s wonderful, and it’s the best cinematic experience in recent years with some of the most captivating performances that have ever graced our screens. Black Panther is a masterpiece; it’s an undeniable brilliance, but I’m not here to write a film review, there’s plenty of those already. I’m here to talk about the relationships that I can’t stop thinking about, and how the film emphasized the importance of unity and communication. And the story of the Black Panther, the emphasis on T’Challa as a man, a King — an Avenger is only beginning. A beginning that’s brought to us by the relationships that shape and mold human beings making Black Panther the first Marvel film that’s achieved balance masterfully. There’s a reason this film is so celebrated, and it’s because in giving us an action packed adventure, it gave us a profoundly moving story about the human psyche and the revolutionary heart that’s found in the connections we make. In making T’Challa the King that he is, the film explores the different relationships between people in a way none like it have before.

In the words of director Ryan Coogler: “Storytelling is the tool that human beings have to trigger empathy. Cinema is a form of storytelling that’s so immersive that it’s not like any other medium.”

T’Challa and Shuri | A Story of Empowering Siblings

There’s so much purity in the bond between Marvel’s perfect sibling duo, and it all comes from the innate desire of closeness. T’Challa and Shuri are nothing alike, but it’s that very choice to be each other’s anchor that leaves me floored. Often times, where monarchies are concerned in the media and in History, too, there are rivalries of all sorts — blood against blood isn’t a surprising turn of events, but what’s refreshing is a fortified blood bond where there’s a plethora of growth happening. And that growth is brought to us not only through undeniable loyalty, but through choices — choices to trust, carry, and believe in one with a fervency unlike anything else. In any sibling fashion, there’s teasing involved — naturally, but through all this, there’s the showcase of unparalleled respect because in order for T’Challa to succeed as the Black Panther, he knows he can’t do it without Shuri, and why the heck would he even want to? She is, in every sense of the word, his armor, his protector, and his very backbone — an absolute force to be reckoned with and one he’d go to the ends of the earth to protect.

And Shuri’s bravery deserves ample praise because she isn’t guided by fear or emotions, but rather by wisdom. She’s thrilled to be helpful, she’s thrilled to be celebrating her brother, and even though corsets aren’t her thing, it’s her outspoken honesty that brings forth the warmth every dark situation needs. In celebrating her as a prodigal genius and the very strength of the suit, the film explores the importance of having faith in someone. If Queen Ramonda, T’Challa, Zuri, or the Dora Milaje didn’t have faith in Shuri’s understanding of technology, she wouldn’t have had the platform to explore the possibilities of vibranium and thereby, wouldn’t have the means to advance her own abilities. Through their faith, she’s able to grow immeasurably, and that growth inspires those around her in an intricate fashion based on trust and unyielding belief. Wisdom so raw, so just and merited that when the time comes, even the Jabari Tribe are able understand why she’s in the position that she is.

The Dora Milaje | The Perfect Army

T’Challa’s army is an army of unbelievably strong fiercely gorgeous women — and that alone would’ve been enough to stun the audience, but it is his temperaments with them that’s so fascinating, Okoye especially. The Dora Milaje have sworn an oath to the throne and whoever sits on it, but it’s also key to acknowledge the unspoken oath towards one another. (Or at least, it’s unspoken canonically within the film.) And driving off of that, it isn’t difficult for the audience to draw from the fact that these women are a kind of team unlike any other. A team who’d fight for one another, a team who’d kill for one another, and a team that’ll effortlessly change the lives of any member, present or future. The level of respect that binds the Dora Milaje and T’Challa tells an even broader story of community and union. Sure, there’s a clear distinction put between them as he is their King, but there’s nothing more evident than the fact that T’Challa himself doesn’t see a difference between them. He knows, without a shadow of a doubt that he’s the fortunate one to have their loyalty, and as a result, his humility is boundless — their bond is gorgeously exclusive, showcasing that where there’s loyalty and respect, everything’s worthwhile.

Apart from the Dora Milaje, it’s key to mention Okoye’s relationship individually with her King — a man she knows inside and out, and one she singlehandedly needs to keep grounded because while in he could be ruthless when necessary, he still hasn’t learned how to talk to the woman he loves. And interestingly enough, throughout the film, you can pinpoint the exact moment where Okoye’s loyalties revert from the throne and back to T’Challa upon realizing just how cruel Killmonger is. As a Dora Milaje, she’s loyal to the throne and Wakanda without hesitation, but as a human being, she’s loyal to her friend because beyond the titles, she knows T’Challa’s heart mirrors values similar to hers. And T’Challa’s loyalty to her is something that comes so naturally, so effortlessly, and without any form of superiority. She is his general, but beyond that, she’s someone he not only relies heavily on, but someone he’s effortlessly empowered by.

T’Challa and Nakia | A Story of Adoration

There’s only one another couple in all of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe that’s left me in awe and thoroughly impressed, and right next to them on that list is T’Challa and Nakia. And it once again comes down to who T’Challa is as a person — as a man and royalty, deep within, his heart reigns, the softness he exudes is so purely admirable, it deserves endless appreciation. It’s the softness and sincerity, which beautifully exhibits the depth of his heart, for even as a King, T’Challa isn’t afraid of being vulnerable. He doesn’t shy away from the truth even if he freezes in the midst of it. He doesn’t “rescue” Nakia in the beginning, but he goes after her solely because of the fact that during the most important moment in his life, at his most vulnerable, he wants and needs her by his side. And it’s that raw sincerity that’s brings effortless magic into the film because while our hero could destroy anyone, he melts at the mere sight of the woman he adores — trusting in her wisdom, strength, and heart with everything he’s got.

The choices to confide in her upon learning the truth of what happened to his uncle, listening intently to every word she spoke, and respecting her agency in spite of his own feelings. Unbeatable. T’Challa and Nakia are equals, both unique in their own way, but around one another, there are no boundaries, only open and honest communication, quiet and profound intimacy in the midst of darkness. Their relationship is explored so intricately that it’s always about the impact it has on each of them individually as opposed to forcing something that serves no real purpose. But this relationship saves T’Challa time and time again, grounding him to a place where sunsets can be appreciated — a place where he could remember who he is and what he is capable of. Love in its healthiest form heals, it saves, and with no effort, it brings out the absolute best in people. Faith in someone is perhaps the most powerful form of encouragement, and Nakia’s faith in T’Challa is the light in trying times.

And it’s that very openness that makes him so special as a King — so different and so remarkable. We’ve seen it too often to believe it but loyalty is easily questionable where this status is concerned. But T’Challa is the man that he is because of those he loves and the love he’s seen in return. His loyalty is steadfast, the adoration and fascination is ever-growing. There’s a myriad to appreciate about this love story, but perhaps, its beauty lies in the subtlety — sure the bold, tender longing on his end adds a layer of  impeccable heart onto his character, but it’s in the stillness where their love glimmers. It’s in the details — the moments that are just for them that we’re fortunate to see as they speak in the silence with body language so precise, it’s as close to immaculate as it gets. It’s found in the moments where they stand hand in hand. It’s found in the delicacy of Nakia’s choice to reveal her pain for his grief by intertwining their fingers together — moments that exist to remind the audience of just how connected these two are. Moments to reveal each character’s heart intricately and profoundly, layering them in a way that’s intended to make sure the audience feels the emotional resonance of their gorgeous unity and adoration. (I don’t think they’re aware of what exes means, but nevertheless, I’m here for it.) She is his Queen even without the ceremony, because in every way, she’s the one he needs and wants by his side — emotionally, spiritually, and physically, his heart is hers.

T’Challa and Erik Killmonger | What Could’ve Been

There’s blood like this, too — broken and tarnished through rage and palpable emotions. But Erik’s impact on T’Challa is of great importance, for it’s the visceral result of negligence and dishonorable choices. It’s the fear of opening unknown doors and the fear of potential outcry. Erik’s outrageous fight, though unlawful and horrendous, came from a place of noble intentions. The most accurate depiction of “cool motive, still murder” I’ve ever seen. And it was his very rage, his destruction that opened up T’Challa’s eyes to the monsters that are being created because those in power aren’t diving into the unknown as they should be. It’s Erik’s rage that reveals the darkness that’s found in isolation, in the lack of relationships, and T’Challa’s choice to take him to the sunset, the choice to want him save him, once more reveal the man T’Challa chooses to be as a King — open and giving, remorseful and wise. (My only complaint about this, they could’ve grown as brothers! Why’d he die!?) And while that would’ve been great to see, his death is merited, his death signifies the reality of oppression, racism, and hardships in gut wrenching manner that’s meant to leave us grieving in spite of everything that he’s done.

In conclusion, there’s so much greatness in this film, and I could use another two more hours of footage. It’s in the way M’Baku chooses to forgive and put years of hardships and rage aside knowing that T’Challa pardoned him. It’s in the way T’Challa chooses to fight for W’Kabi as opposed to fighting with him. It’s in the way Zuri stood loyal to the throne because of what King T’Chaka had done for him. It’s in the way Queen Ramonda has chosen to raise her kids to be wise and respectable. It’s in the way Shuri was encouraged to explore the ideas in her mind. It’s in the way Okoye is given the platform to lead. It’s in Nakia’s loyalty to Wakanda. It’s in the way the women refer to one another as sisters with such sincerity and heart reflecting the very respect that’s overwhelmingly rooted within them. It’s the choice in diction, which reflects friendships most exquisitely. It’s in the way Agent Ross chooses to pay his respects. It’s in the way T’Challa stands up to his ancestors after his near death experience. It’s in the way characters grow from the mistakes.

We are a product of the relationships we have and the choices we make. And the greatest films are stories told by their characters – they’re the stories that not only celebrate cultures, eccentricities, and history, but they’re the stories that celebrate people and who they are at their core. Black Panther is exceptional for a number of reasons, we’ve made this amply clear by now, but where it excels in story telling, no film of its genre has ever done so before. (Anyone who knows me, knows of my undying adoration for Steve Rogers as Captain America and what he stands for.) So you know that naturally, perhaps I’d let my biased opinion stop me from saying this, but Black Panther is the best thing Marvel’s done because of the intricate choices its made to allow the audience to see what our world can be like if men and women existed in unison. If tribes and cultures all over the world united as opposed to remaining divided.

It’s what our world can be like if our leaders were good men with benevolent hearts who chose to learn from their mistakes. When we meet T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War, he’s on a raging quest of vengeance, but the T’Challa we get to know in Black Panther is a man who’s come to understand that taking things slowly, listening intently to the voices all around, and trusting the instincts within him will make him a better leader. T’Challa’s vulnerability, and the honest reflections these characters experience is something of a great rarity in film making nowadays. Black Panther is and will continue to be a ceaseless emblem of hope for black men and women from all over the world, as a masterful symbol of representation, it is a beacon of light for us all, and the perfectly balanced showcase of how reality and fiction can collide in superlative harmony. We can, and all of us should learn a thing or two from the stories that were told in Wakanda.

In the words of King T’Challa:

“Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We can not. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe. ”

What are your thoughts on Black Panther? Let’s chat in the comments below!

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