It has been almost one and a half decades since the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the MCU, started its journey, and it has significantly impacted the realm of fictional media along the way. Representation is the cornerstone of comic-book literature, and by now, the MCU has released a number of projects respecting that ideal. Among them, the first and most important one, which truly made an effort to represent persons of color by drawing not only the cast but most of the creators from the marginalized African American community, was “Black Panther,” released in 2018. The movie, which left its immense cultural footprints post-release, saw the titular character, aka T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, learning what it means to be a king and protector of his people. In his journey, as he grapples with the loss of his father and tries to fill his shoes, he is assisted by several strong, dynamic female characters. After Chadwick Boseman’s sudden demise in 2020, the MCU had the nearly impossible task of translating the real-life loss to the on-screen character at hand. According to director Ryan Coogler, to cope with this situation, they focused on the female characters as a form of the narrative’s continuing natural flow, as they wanted to capture how the closest characters to T’Challa were those most affected by his loss. The result was not only MCU’s best female ensemble character portrayal to date but also an impassioned, heartbreaking tribute to the deceased actor. We will briefly discuss Queen Ramonda and Princess Shuri’s portrayals in the movie.
Queen Ramonda In ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’
Ramonda, known as the “Queen Mother” to the Wakandans, is the mother of King T’Challa and Princess Shuri. Aside from being a loving, caring guardian for her children, she acts as a counsel to the throne, too, as shown in the first Black Panther movie, where her advice guided her son T’Challa to become the King Wakanda needed. After the events of the first movie, the “Battle of Wakanda ” ensued, which resulted in T’Challa and Shuri getting snapped away. Since that period, she had to take on the roles of the Queen and political leader of her nation until the events of “Avengers: Endgame” brought them back. In “Wakanda Forever,” T’Challa is seen suffering from an unknown disease, and he passes away pretty early in the movie. This results in Ramonda taking on the role of Queen once again. After the news of T’Challa’s death is known by the rest of the world, the first-world opportunistic aggressors like the United States and France continue to pressure Wakanda to share Vibranium, the Wakandan metal with mystical properties, with them. They even infiltrate Wakandan outposts with the help of private mercenaries to steal Wakandan resources. Queen Ramonda proved her mettle by showing how effective of a protector she is. Assisted by Dora Milaje, she not only thwarts their efforts to steal but also by exposing the involved nations in the United Nations convention, humiliating them; she sends a strong message to the rest of the world regarding Wakanda’s ability to defend itself.
As a woman of faith, she shares a strong belief in her country’s traditions and rituals. She continues to implore her daughter to synthesize the heart-shaped herb, knowing how important a symbol the “Panther Habit” is for her people. To help Shuri channel the grief, she takes her to a secluded wilderness and shows her the cloth-burning ritual, which symbolizes leaving the past behind and making an effort to move on. After Namor manages to track them down and pay them a visit to let Ramonda know about his ultimatum in the same place, she seeks the counsel of the Elders and the Jabari Tribe to decide the future course of action. She is rightly worried about Namor, as he was able to sneak past Wakandan defenses, and therefore is unwilling to let Shuri go to the United States with Okoye. Her fears manifest when Namor abducts Riri Williams and Shuri and brings them to Talokan. The loss of her entire family and concerns regarding the security of Wakanda pushes her to make the harshest decisions, as she strips Okoye of her duty as the general of the Dora Milaje. Her emotionally moving speech at the Wakandan council shakes the members to their core.
Despite Namor’s warnings that trying to locate Talokan will have disastrous consequences for Wakanda, Ramonda’s motherly concerns rightfully lead her to seek help from former War Dog Nakia. Nakia’s infiltration skills prove effective as she can rescue Shuri and Riri, but this changes the course of Wakanda’s fate as Namor fulfills his promise by raiding the country. This results in another grave tragedy as Queen Ramonda drowns to death while saving Riri. Even after her death, she continues to be an inspiration, as, during the climactic battle, visions of her from the ancestral plane and her wisdom help Shuri come to her senses and spare Namor’s life. In the end, Shuri seeks solace in performing her mother’s ritual as she finds a new family in Nakia and her nephew T’Challa II.
Angela Bassett delivers a natural yet extraordinarily strong performance as Queen Ramonda. The vulnerability and insecurities of the character meander under the shield of her strong and resolute demeanor. Aptly called Queen Mother, Ramonda struggles with juggling her dual roles as mother and political leader, and protector of her country, and the lack of a Panther guardian does not hinder her from ensuring the country’s security. Her faith has helped her deal with recurring experiences of grief, and she wants Shuri to help similarly, but the generational gap between them hampers that. In its quest for exploration of female characters’ grief and coming to terms with it, “Wakanda Forever” finds its most memorable character portrayal in Queen Ramonda.
Princess Shuri In ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’
The movie begins with a prayer to Bast, which is performed by Shuri as a plea to the goddess to save her brother’s life. Unable to successfully synthesize the heart-shaped herb, in her desperation, Shuri even states that she will put her faith in God if her brother is cured. Unfortunately, T’Challa passes away, and this begins a grief-stricken Shuri’s struggle with accepting her faith, all the while processing the pain through the movie. As seen through her arc so far in the MCU, she has been instrumental in her brother T’Challa’s journey as Black Panther, always aiding him with her technological genius and keeping him protected. After his death, the sense of failure coupled with the pain of loss makes her block out the rest of the world. As a woman of science, she previously didn’t seem too keen on upholding ancestral traditions, and after the tragedy, she now considers the mantle of the Panther a relic of the past. After all, by her own admission, she wanted to synthesize the herb, not for the continuation of Panther’s legacy but to save her brother. Her mother, Ramonda, tries to advise her to let the past go or to let it all out, but Shuri fears the world will burn if she indeed has to confront a reality where her brother is not by her side. She buries herself under the things she’s most accustomed to dealing with, logic and science.
Accompanied by Okoye and Everett Ross, Shuri tracks down teenage genius Riri Williams in the United States. The sequence where Shuri goes to convince Riri to accompany them to Wakanda strangely reminds viewers of the conversation between Tony and Peter from “Captain America: Civil War.” Namor is on the hunt for the person responsible for creating the vibranium detector (Riri Williams), and his Talokan generals easily capture her after incapacitating Okoye and Shuri. In order to save Riri, Shuri surrenders herself and goes to Talokan to confront Namor. Experiencing Talokan culture and people up close makes Shuri sympathize with them. Shuri reunites with her mother after Nakia rescues both her and Riri. However, the reunion is cut short as Namor attacks and floods Wakanda, which results in Ramonda’s death.
Devastated after yet another death in the family, Shuri almost gives in to rage and vengeance after which she synthesizes the heart-shaped herb and quickly consumes it. Her vision of the ancestral plane is located in Wakanda’s throne room, where Ramonda died, symbolizing that Shuri hasn’t been able to move on from the latest tragedy. But instead of her mother, to her absolute shock, she meets Killmonger there, who chastises her family and provokes her to give in to her dark impulses. What Shuri has been through so far and her inability to process grief has pushed her over the edge, and her meeting Killmonger in the ancestral plane is a symbol of that. The experience turns Shuri even more distraught, and again a feeling of being lesser, being a failure, engulfs her. She puts on the Panther Habit and unites the Elders and all the tribes for an attack against Namor, which she wants to culminate in the death of the Talokan King. M’Baku, like a caring brother, senses Shuri’s hurt and tries to appeal to her judgment, but at this point, Shuri has been driven too far for comfort. She laments that her mother’s aspirations, dreams, and teachings have died with her, and now only retribution may satisfy her.
Eventually, the battle between Talokan and Wakanda ensues, and the combat between Shuri and Namor turns vicious. Every blow Shuri deals feel personal, as an outlet for her pent-up rage and desperation. She is at her breaking point when she is almost prepared to end Namor’s life, and at that crucial moment, she receives another vision from the ancestral plane, this time from her mother, Queen Ramonda, who assures her daughter of her belief in her and asks her to show who she truly is. This dissuades her pain to some extent, as she is now aware of what her role is in the absence of two of her closest friends. She is Wakanda’s call to a new future and chance of renewal; she is the Queen and protector the country needs in the direst of times. Shuri forgives Namor and thereby absolves herself. Later, after the Wakanda-Talokan crisis is resolved, Shuri visits Haiti to meet Nakia, who reveals that she is raising her and T’Challa’s son in seclusion. Finding a sense of closure, Shuri is able to perform the ritual of cloth burning and is accompanied by her nephew; it’s almost as if her mother’s statement about T’Challa being present with her becomes true.
The interactions between mother and daughter, the generational dynamics, and the way they tried to help each other heal constituted the emotional crux of the movie, which in its way, presented a heart-wrenching tribute to the late actor Chadwick Boseman. Actor Letitia Wright had the tough job of portraying a character in the most despondent, cloistered state, especially when the said character was previously established in a lighthearted tone. Emotionally, she managed to bear it all, and the pain the character felt at times seemed palpable. Especially almost at the end, when Shuri is sitting on the sunlit seashore, she imagines all the happy memories spent with her brother in silence, and tears start rolling from her eyes, symbolizing that she finally is at peace, which will make viewers go numb. Angela Bassett and Letitia Wright channeled the sorrow of the loss of their co-actor, their good friend, in a way that emotions in real life often intermingled with emotions portrayed on screen. This honest acknowledgment, in turn, contributed to some of the most human moments seen in superhero movies.
See more: How ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Sets Up Disney+ Ironheart And MCU Thunderbolts?