Now that Black Panther is ruling the box office and fans have gotten their long-awaited visit to Wakanda, let’s talk about one of the major twists in the Marvel Studios movie.
There are no spoilers in the video above, but we’re going to jump to the next page to protect some of the actual secrets of director Ryan Coogler’s film from the rest of the world.
Consider this a checkpoint of the Border Tribe.
If you’ve crossed over this far, you’ve seen the movie and already know that midway through the story, Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa loses a challenge to his throne from exiled cousin Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
T’Challa is brutally vanquished, cast over the precipice of Warrior Falls, and his mother, sister, and allies in the Wakandan leadership find themselves grappling with a blunt and often antagonistic new ruler of their homeland.
But the traditions of their country have placed Killmonger in charge. The rules are the rules. And they must be obeyed, even if they install someone whose leadership skills and temperament are questionable.
The nation of Wakanda is so far ahead of its time, it managed to predict the division of America in 2018, even though the story was written two years ago.
“There’s going to be similarities there,” Boseman told EW last February on the set of the movie in Atlanta. “It’s funny watching the [presidential] campaign because we were working on this before the campaign started in terms of the prep. Watching how that ended, watching Obama leave office, and watching Trump take over — there are definite parallels that you pull from.”
The Wakandan Resistance
After T’Challa is seemingly vanquished, we see an emotional conversation between two of the most powerful women in his life: Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, a “war dog” secret agent who wants to defy Killmonger, and Danai Gurira’s Okoye, the general in charge of Wakanda’s defense and head of the Dora Milaje secret service, which protects the king.
Okoye tells Nakia, “My heart is with you,” but she must now continue her work and try to prevent Killmonger from doing damage to the nation by guiding him rather than fighting him.
“You are the greatest warrior Wakanda has. Help me overthrow him before he becomes too strong,” Nakia implores Okoye.
“Overthrow?” Okoye scoffs. “I’m not a spy who can come and go as they so please. I am loyal to that throne, no matter who sits upon it.”
Nakia says this is not just about revenge for T’Challa. “I loved him. I love my country too.”
“Then you serve your country,” Okoye says.
“No,” Nakia answers. “I save my country.”
The Actors Speak
In a recent interview, Gurira said the real-world parallels are obvious.
“The thing that’s very interesting about [Okoye] to me is she is a very strong traditionalist. She believes in holding the country together,” Gurira said. “I found that really fascinating. I thought of people who work in certain fields in the federal government and then… a turnover of power occurs.”
One they’re definitely not anticipating. And not prepared to manage.
No one says Donald Trump’s name, but no one has to. It’s an issue that’s bigger than him, even if he’s the latest example. “What we’re dealing with in this film, what we’re addressing, is relevant all the time,” Nyong’o said.
“When you go into federal buildings, there is a picture on the wall that you look at every day. And that picture will change,” Gurira said. “And the person you are now following — who is deciding the mode of operations and what the mission is — is a very different person than the person before. The institution is something that you’re trying to maintain.
“It’s a struggle this nation is in, in many ways,” she said of the United States. “Institutions don’t change with individuals. But what happens when the individual is someone you have trouble aligning with?”
Those are the forces pushing Okoye and Nakia in opposite directions, even though they believe the same thing.
“I love that scene between Nakia and Okoye,” Gurira said. “Neither of them are wrong. And I love how it relates to issues we see in contemporary governments across the world. [Nakia] is basically saying, ‘Let’s do a coup d’état.’ And [Okoye] says, ‘We’re not one of those nations.’ But at the same time, Nakia says, ‘I’m gonna save my nation.’”
Even the actress said it made her think about her own response: Change the system from within as much as possible, or fight against it from the outside?
“When I did ADR, I was like, ‘I think I’m on Nakia’s side!’” Gurira said with a laugh. “And then I watch it again, and I see [Okoye’s] point of view. I see it. But I love that they make both arguments.”
The main point is, Nakia and Okoye are not enemies — even when they disagree, even though they are very different personalities. They’re just working two different approaches to the same problem.
“These women are not pitted against each other,” Gurira said. “They are dealing with deep philosophical ideologies and values and ways to respond to trauma.”