Long live Black Panther in 'Wakanda Forever' : Pop Culture Happy Hour Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the sequel to 2018's Black Panther, which starred the late Chadwick Boseman. This film begins with T'Challa's death and allows its characters time to grieve him, including his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett). But a new threat rises out of the waters in the form of Prince Namor (Tenoch Huerta). The film is directed by Ryan Coogler.

Long live Black Panther in 'Wakanda Forever'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1135592273/1135908512" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript



"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is the sequel to 2018's "Black Panther," which starred the late Chadwick Boseman. He played T'Challa, superpowered protector of a hidden Afrofuturist country, which is the sole source of a rare and powerful metal. The new film opens with T'Challa's death, which makes Wakanda the target of many nations seeking to exploit its wealth, including a mysterious undersea realm led by the powerful Prince Namor. The defense of Wakanda now falls to many characters we met in the first film, as well as some surprising new allies.

I'm Glen Weldon, and today we're talking about "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Joining me today is Ronald Young Jr. He's the host of the film and television review podcast "Leaving The Theater." Hello, Ronald.

RONALD YOUNG JR: Yibambe, Glen.

WELDON: Yibambe. Also joining us is Daisy Rosario, senior supervising producer of audio at Slate, where she works with shows like "ICYMI," a fun show about internet culture. Welcome back, Daisy.

DAISY ROSARIO: Thank you for having me. Good to see you, Glen.

WELDON: Good to see you. Can I call it ickymee (ph)? What do you call it?

ROSARIO: (Laughter) We call it "ICYMI."

WELDON: "ICYMI." And rounding out the panel is iHeartRadio producer and host Joelle Monique. Hey, Joelle.

JOELLE MONIQUE: Hi, Glen. Thanks for having me back.


MONIQUE: (Laughter).

WELDON: All right. Let's start. "Wakanda Forever" opens, as I mentioned, with T'Challa's death and allows many of its characters and the audience time to grieve him, including his sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright; his mother, Queen Ramonda, played by Angela Basset; and Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, who leads Wakanda's elite warrior class.

The world now sees Wakanda as vulnerable without a Black Panther to protect it and its enormous stockpile of vibranium. Meanwhile, a new threat rises out of the waters, as the pointy-eared, wing-footed Prince Namor, played by Tenoch Huerta, delivers an ultimatum involving the brilliant young scientist Riri Williams, played by Dominique Thorne. The result is war, with some familiar faces drawn into the mix - Winston Duke's M'baku, Lupita Nyong'o's Nakia and Martin Freeman's Everett Ross, as well as some new characters played by Michaela Coel, among others. "Wakanda Forever" was directed by Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote the script with Joe Robert Cole. It is now in theaters.

Joelle, what'd you think?

MONIQUE: Glen, let me tell you something. In the film annals, in the history of cinema, there are many great women characters - complex, funny, the range, OK? In the superhero cinematic world, we are limited in our selection.

WELDON: Oh, yeah.

MONIQUE: And when we get a solo film with a woman, typically, the journey is about her being a woman and stepping into a position of power, which is valid and an experience most women have. But rarely do we get a series of women in complex positions of power fighting one another to make a better community, civilization, kingdom. And that's what we got in "Wakanda Forever." And they were all Black queens, and it was amazing. I can't wait to watch it again (laughter).

WELDON: Yeah, the script really lets these women stand up. Daisy, what'd you think?

ROSARIO: Yeah, I also really, really enjoyed this movie. I do love the first "Black Panther" movie so much. I had a couple of notes, like...


ROSARIO: ...Things that were just kind of frustrating to me because of what I would say was, like, the rest of the high quality. Like, I don't think that these things would even be noticeable if the rest of the quality didn't feel so high. So there's, you know, that. I also would say - because I know this is the part that I think we all were wondering about - you know, it's kind of like, we know that they're not recasting T'Challa, so how does that all fit in in the larger world of this movie? And I would say that I do really feel like this movie works as a sequel in the sense that the actions and the things that we're seeing in this movie are very, very much informed by things that we saw in the first movie. And that's a good thing. I mean that in a really good way. Like, it's not only a reaction to Chadwick Boseman's death. I think they do that, but they still move along the story of this kingdom of Wakanda and what we know about it.

And I mean, let's remember where this movie would have been starting if Chadwick Boseman hadn't actually died, right? Like, King T'Chaka has died. T'challa is trying to take over. Killmonger comes. So it's like, T'Challa just became king, then he's not king, and everyone thinks he's dead for a while, and then he comes back, and then the next things we really know are that, like, T'Challa and Shuri disappear in the snap of the "Infinity War"-slash-"Endgame" movies. So, like, even if Chadwick Boseman hadn't died, I - this movie would really be starting in a place of, so, what's going on at the top of...

WELDON: (Laughter) Yeah.

ROSARIO: ...Wakanda? Like, a little bit of a power vacuum, and what do we do? And so I think that really helped in terms of them being able to continue to move the story along. And, you know, for me, it doesn't feel cheap. It feels like they added a very necessary grief layer for us to all deal with our feelings about the loss of Chadwick Boseman, who, you know, I often say, like, don't, you know, hold celebrity in that high regard, but that dude really did seem special, right? Like, he just seemed to take such joy in what he was doing. And that's a really beautiful thing. And so I think besides the fact that, you know, they lost this main actor, I think they did try to really pay a lot of respect to who he seemed as a person. And it also didn't take away from where they were able to take this movie in terms of the plot and, moving forward, the larger story of Wakanda in the MCU.

WELDON: The film really pays homage - it kind of bookends with a pair of homages to Chadwick Boseman - the actor Chadwick Boseman, T'Challa, the character. All right, Ronald, where did you come down on "Wakanda Forever"?

YOUNG: You know, the first two-thirds of this movie, I think, blew me away. I was really in there with it. I was excited about where it was going. I was excited about what it was setting up. And I think everything that we say good about this movie really stands on its own, like the complexity of the women characters...


YOUNG: ...The ways in which the political imbalance of Wakanda and dealing with that throughout the movie, the beauty of this underwater kingdom that we see, the introduction of Namor. I think all of that really worked for me. But there were just a few things in this movie that I think would have worked better and would have taken this movie from good to I can't believe y'all did this twice...

ROSARIO: (Laughter).

YOUNG: ...For me, if they would have just thought a little bit more about the connective tissue of the characters and the motivations behind the characters. And for me, it was specifically with Shuri. If we're being honest, Chadwick Boseman had a bit of an advantage that Shuri did not, in that we get to see Black Panther introduced in "Civil War"...


YOUNG: ...And he is angrily grieving his father, angrily just tearing through people, grieving his father. And it feels like the journey that we set Shuri up for in this movie - and it felt like there were parts of it that they certainly had to rush in order to finish the movie, essentially. And I think if they would have taken their times on those parts, for me, it would have been more of a believable turn of events. There was kind of a few missed opportunities there. And I think that's why when I left, I felt a little like, huh. I didn't necessarily feel the joy that I had after seeing the first one. I certainly felt a heaviness from missing Chadwick Boseman and missing T'Challa in this movie. But what did remain, I think, was very good. And I think a lot of people are going to be very satisfied with what they see in front of them. I just think it could have been a little bit better. But to compare it to its other Marvel counterparts of this phase, I think it's a standout.

WELDON: Yeah, yeah.

YOUNG: If we're talking about the other solo Marvel movies, I think this is like, Marvel, it's a good thing you had this one in your back pocket.

WELDON: Yeah. Look; I like this movie. I dug it. But I want to unpack the connection between this movie and "Black Panther" because I think a lot of people who are wondering whether or not they're going to go see it are going to try to unpack that. I mean, I think this film, like the first film, grapples with ideas that superhero films tend not to do because superhero films tend to be about protecting the status quo, restoring the status quo. These films tend to be about questioning it. Look; I write and talk about superhero films a lot, more than is probably healthy.

ROSARIO: (Laughter).

WELDON: And "Black Panther" - just anecdotally, "Black Panther" is the one film I have heard from a lot of folks who come up to me and say - they always preface this by saying, I don't like superhero films, but - and "Black Panther"...


WELDON: ...Is the film they single out. So what's beneath that? Well, what does this film have in common with "Black Panther"? A, insanely attractive actors. I mean...


WELDON: ...Angela Bassett...

MONIQUE: Oh, my God.

WELDON: ...And her arms, people. She gets to serve. She gets to deliver some diva monologues. Here for that.

ROSARIO: Incredible.

WELDON: Then, of course, we can't ignore the setting, the notion of Wakanda that is a vision of Black experience, Black excellence, completely removed...


WELDON: ...From colonialism and slavery, just the idea of that, the ideal of that. You know, all superhero stuff is wish fulfillment. All superpower stuff is what if. But this what-if is coming from a much deeper, more meaningful place. It is...


WELDON: ...Actually an ache. It is a - it comes from pain, and that's what sets it apart. And that is also bound up with - this film, like "Black Panther" did, has a villain who's kind of got a point. You know...


WELDON: ...He's not wrong.

YOUNG: (Laughter) Yes.

WELDON: Namor is not wrong here.

YOUNG: He's making some points.

WELDON: This is, I think, part of it. He calls himself Namor, and we find out why, and it's a bit of a stretch.


WELDON: But everybody else, literally every other character in this film, calls him Naymor (ph). And that kind of made my fanboy heart turn because, like, I have had discussions in the back of dark comic book shops about, is it Naymor, or is it Namor? So...

ROSARIO: Right? (Laughter).

WELDON: Goes on. He calls him Namor. I'm calling him Namor. What did you guys make of Namor and his vision of - it's not Atlantis, but it's a lot more organic and vegetal.


ROSARIO: Vegetal is a good word.

WELDON: Like, if we - compared to the DC "Aquaman," like, that is a very white, clean aesthetic. His throne room is kind of an Apple store, and that's very different to what we get...

YOUNG: Yeah.

WELDON: ...Here. What'd you guys make of Namor as a villain, as a foil?

MONIQUE: I liked Tenoch Huerta. I really liked him in the role as Namor. Namor in the comics, he bangs. You know, he's out here...


MONIQUE: ...Being a hottie.

ROSARIO: (Laughter).

MONIQUE: He gets around. So that confidence and swagger to be imbued into this character early gives me a lot of hope that we're going to see him in comical and lighter spaces throughout. I think Tenoch has that within him. So this was, like, a really good setup. You can instantly vibe with his background story. And I just like the way that he presented an authentic challenge to our heroes who have very, like, regal tones about them. Like, everything about Angela screams queen. Like, she...


MONIQUE: ...Wouldn't have to do anything. She just has a very regal presence about her, and I could say the same about Danai. And so to have that equal across from them creates such great friction.


MONIQUE: And it's also interesting because this is the first time we're really seeing two nations go head to head. It has almost nothing to do with any of the other nations surrounding it...


MONIQUE: ...For the first time in, I think, this phase of Marvel. And the character Namor brings us in. It's like we're being very grounded into solo story as opposed to, like, "Multiverse Of Madness," which while you're watching it - who the hell's story is this? It's so - we're crossing a lot of lines. There are so many characters. I love the streamlinedness (ph) of this. And I think having a good villain really allows you to do that.

YOUNG: I was also a big fan of Namor. And now I feel self-conscious about saying it. So thank you all for that.


YOUNG: I think he brought a lot of charisma to the screen. There were parts of me that felt wistful, wondering what those scenes would have been like between Chadwick Boseman and Tenoch Huerta.


YOUNG: I would have, like, flipped out to see that. But that bit of gravitas came between Angela Bassett and Tenoch Huerta. I thought those scenes really played well together, and I've really enjoyed seeing him on screen. I will say that one thing that always bothered me about the original "Black Panther" is that we get this scene at the end of the movie with all these Black folks fighting each other, and I didn't really like that. Like, it just - there's something about that that always bothered me. And it kind of was another thing that kind of made my heart a little bit sad, where I'm just like, I would like to see any of these Black and brown folks fighting the oppressors and actually overturning something. And at least, can we stop bringing up the idea and then never actually - like, let's follow through a little bit with...


ROSARIO: (Laughter).

YOUNG: ...It. Let's just take back one of these colonized states or something just a little bit. Like, let's play around with that idea. Let's push it a little bit more. But I think, like, just seeing the nation, the underwater civilization and seeing all of them with Namor was just - it was a beautiful part. And I think all of that side of the MCU was just exciting to see this unlocked. And I'm just very curious to see what happens with Namor and his nation moving forward.

ROSARIO: I mean, yeah, I thought really a great villain - that, for me, is the complexity of it and the fact that dude does have some points. Some points are made.


ROSARIO: Some points are made.

WELDON: (Laughter).

ROSARIO: Like, I really, really love this movie. I just have a couple of major things, and I just can't shake those things. And basically, what it feels like to me is, like, they actually - the movie is long. The movie is two hours and 40 minutes or so, right? And it takes, I think, a loving amount of time with some of the weight of these things. And so that's why I find it frustrating that it feels like the third act kind of wraps up in a way that - it's not that it's not earned, it's that they actually did take the time, and then it feels like somebody went, oh, snap, we're at 2:28, we'd better hurry this along. And then it, like, doesn't fully deus ex machina, but it, like, kind of does. But that said, that's still a complaint that comes more from how good I thought the rest of it was.

WELDON: Yeah. I mean, points to Namor because this is a character who has little, flippy-flappy wings on his feet, and...


WELDON: ...Watching him on the page, he can be all severe and regal. And you don't realize as you're watching him on the page that those wings have to flap and make a sound...

MONIQUE: (Laughter).

WELDON: ...And he has to...

ROSARIO: (Laughter).

WELDON: ...Keep a straight face as he's being a badass when you hear (imitating slapping noises).


WELDON: To what you all are saying, like, the conflict between Wakanda and Namor's realm takes up most of this film. The problem is that we, the audience, know from the jump that they shouldn't be fighting.


WELDON: And the reason for their conflict is this piece of tech that's developed by the Riri Williams character. So that plot thread is a little bit frayed, and it makes this main action of the film feel a little like a training exercise. Like, the battle scenes we get are impressive. They're well-choreographed...


WELDON: ...But they're also very self-contained. You know, they're raiding parties, they're skirmishes aboard a boat. They're not these full-on battle scenes across the vast plains with war rhinos that we got in "Black Panther" and "Infinity War." And that makes this film seem smaller, right? It - this is not a direction I expect sequels to go. This film does seem smaller than the first, right?

MONIQUE: In some ways, sure. I think probably because it was more introspective. The interesting thing watching this, to me, and then later finding out the original script, before they had to rewrite it because of Boseman's passing, was about grief 'cause they're coming in right after "Endgame." You know, as Daisy so eloquently put at the top, there's a vacuum. On top of that, they're giving these four women full storylines. To me, it felt like a mini comic run, you know, post a superhero passing in comic books, when there's a void to be filled, sometimes you'll get multiple characters sort of vying for that position with their own quick, like, three-, four-, five-issue run of a comic book. And that's what we had here. So the pacing of it and maybe even into the third act, but definitely, like, these little battles, like, I love this introduction to...


MONIQUE: ...Riri. And I think...


MONIQUE: ...I did not come in thinking I would be leaving thinking about Dominique Thorne. So on that front, like, yeah, it's a little bit smaller but because we have to do so many mini stories in order to fully tell this story of, like, what's going to happen next with Wakanda.


YOUNG: I think that's where I'm also struggling. We all admittedly know that this movie had to do more than the first one in a lot of...


YOUNG: ...Ways, and a large chunk of that is because of Boseman's passing, that we end up having to do more in this movie than "Black Panther" had to do, which is funny because most people that saw "Black Panther," on the weight of our shoulders, we were like, this movie has to be great...


YOUNG: ...Or we'll never see...

WELDON: I remember that.

YOUNG: ...Another one. Like, it has...

ROSARIO: It really did have so much weight.

YOUNG: ...To be great. And it was. It really lived up to it. But to, like, then to do that well and to be in this position where you have to make this one, it seems like there were a lot of threads that were started and, in some cases, kind of forgotten. Like - and I felt like specifically Okoye's arc, I felt like she kind of disappears throughout the movie in a way that I didn't appreciate. To say that she's not there would not be true, but to say that her storyline begins to fade a little bit is what kind of got me. And I feel like there's just, you know, this strong entrance of her character in the movie, then it begins to taper off. And I think there was that happening with several characters in the movie, which leads me to say a third Wakanda movie I think is going to be better than this one.

WELDON: Well, I mean, this is leading us into the usual Marvel complaints, which, I mean, like, the stuff with Riri...


WELDON: ...Williams is setting up for another movie. Like, you called it an introduction, Joelle. That's exactly what it was. And to get more of her, we needed to get less of Okoye. The stuff with Martin Freeman could have lifted out of this movie completely. But the work he's doing here is to set up the next movie, right?

YOUNG: Completely.

WELDON: And as I said at the top, this film begins and ends with homages to Boseman. And I just want to assure people going in that if you're worried that Coogler is going to do some creepy CGI reanimation stuff with Boseman...

ROSARIO: Oh, gosh, no.

WELDON: ...Like they did with Leia and Tarkin in "Rogue One," I found it very reverent and very tasteful. What'd you guys think?

ROSARIO: Yeah, I'd agree with that.


MONIQUE: It's a love letter from some extremely talented people.


MONIQUE: Like, you can't help but leave being like, oh, OK, well, if nothing else, that movie honors the legacy of Chadwick Boseman. You feel as if, like, 25 years from now, kids who didn't grow up with a Chadwick Boseman could be like, oh, this was the important legacy he left behind.

ROSARIO: Yeah, I think there's also - there's celebration. Grief is not just being sad about something, it's about celebrating something. And I feel like they do a lovely balance of that. Like, it felt really nice. It never felt cheap or overdone or like they were - you know, I mean, even something that is this commercial, it did not feel like they were trying to sell me the idea of sadness. It felt like it was being made by people who genuinely loved and respected that person and that were missing them.

MONIQUE: To be such a intentional and powerful meditation on grief, I really appreciate the space for anger...


MONIQUE: ...Which is something I think we're starting to explore more in Black cinema - what does justified anger look like? How does it manifest? How do we manage it? I thought it was really beautiful and complex and interesting.



WELDON: Yeah. That's a great point. Well, we'd like to hear what you think about "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." Find us at Facebook at facebook.com/pchh. Up next, what's making us happy this week.

Now it is time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, what's making us happy this week. Ronald, what is making you happy this week?

YOUNG: Well, I admittedly am late to the Jerrod Carmichael train. My earliest introduction to him was - there was some for profit or some sort of telethon that was on. And he did some standup on it. And I remember thinking, who is this guy? But I never really followed him after that. And then, of course, I saw "Rothaniel." You know, I laughed and I teared up. Like, it was just very interesting watching him perform like that. And I had heard from several people to go out and check out one of his earlier works. And recently I have because it's on Peacock. It is "The Carmichael Show," which is a - it's just a sitcom. And it's, you know, a sitcom with a laugh track. But it is, you know - it is a fully Black cast, starring some people like Lil Rel Howery, Tiffany Haddish...


YOUNG: ...Loretta Devine, David Alan Grier, Amber Stevens West and, of course, Jerrod Carmichael. And it gives very much the spectrum of Blackness on a conversation, which I really enjoy, because you got your barber shop Black folks. You got your church Black folks. You got your intellectual Black folks. And all of those folks are having a conversation about what it is to be Black or whatever the topic of the day is. And this sitcom, in 22 minutes, it does a very good job of doing that with the laugh track, which I normally find annoying but I find myself laughing along with because these are very funny people saying and doing very funny things. So that's, again, "The Carmichael Show" on Peacock.

WELDON: Thank you very much, Ronald. It's a great recommendation. Daisy, what is making you happy this week?

ROSARIO: So I've got two things. And the second one is to help compensate for the first one. So the first one is (laughter)...


ROSARIO: It's an episode of a podcast. So one of the shows we make at Slate is called "One Year." The show every season is a different year. And then they dig into things of that year. And so they did a season on 1986. I do not work on this show. They did an episode called "The Ultimate Field Trip." And it is a look back at the space shuttle Challenger. And in this episode, what they did was they interviewed a bunch of the people that were not the chosen teacher, the other teachers who'd applied to be the teacher in space and so went through all the training and all of that with the crew of the Challenger that obviously eventually dies. And so it's just a version of the story I've never heard before. It really, I thought, was just a stunning piece of audio. So definitely check out "One Year," "1986: The Ultimate Field Trip" episode. It's fantastic.

And then my other recommendation - in case you're like, she recommended something from where she works - is adopt a pet if you've wanted one. I just came upon the four-year anniversary/gotcha day of my cat. And I just can't say enough about what having a pet has meant to my life, like, in terms of my mental health, my peace, my calm. But I was also somebody who was really like, I don't know if I can. I don't know if I can. I don't know if I can. So I just feel like I've been seeing it in the news lately a lot that, like, rescues are filling up again. So this is me saying that I highly recommend getting that pet that you have wanted if you haven't done it yet, because it will make your life better.

WELDON: All right. Joelle, top that. What's making you happy this week?

MONIQUE: I'll just follow up by saying, yes, I am quickly approaching my gotcha day with my dog, Lions (ph). It was really hard to do it as a puppy, but I love her so much. Adopt a pet. Also, my friend, Stephanie Williams, is beautifully adding to the canon of the character Nubia, who originally was the twin sister of Wonder Woman. But she's changed that origin story. And it's amazing and beautiful. Before you count all of Nubia's comics on one hand, now she's got, like, two or three volumes.

And Stephanie is working on the new Shuri comic book series, which will be out right after this movie comes out. So after you see "Black Panther," if you're like, wow, I really love this journey Shuri's on, you can check out Stephanie Williams' new comic book on Shuri continuing that journey. It is so much fun. It introduces queer and trans characters to the world of Themyscira. It is so fun and beautifully, beautifully drawn. So go check that out.

WELDON: Thank you very much, Joelle. What's making me happy this week? "The English" is a six-episode series that premieres this weekend on Amazon Prime. We should note that Amazon supports NPR and pays to distribute some of our content. But "The English," it's a bloody, pulpy, hugely satisfying revenge Western set in 1890. And that's just as the frontier is closing down. And you got this brutal era of conquest that was the actual Old West in the public imagination that is now becoming this kind of romantic notion of BS, rugged individualism, right? So it looks fantastic. It's funny. It's bloody. It's dark. It's kind of diet Cormac McCarthy, right? So it doesn't kind of hollow you out and make you want to lie in a ditch for a day.

ROSARIO: (Laughter).

WELDON: But because it is also weirdly romantic, I love it. And you will know - check out the first episode. You will know 10 minutes in if it is for you. It is very much for me. That is "The English" on Amazon Prime. And that is what is making me happy this week. One more thing before we go. This Sunday, we'll be dropping the next episode in a special series that our friend and fellow host Aisha Harris has been working on for over a year. It is called Screening Ourselves. And in each episode, Aisha digs into film history and looks at a movie that is considered a cinema classic but wasn't exactly loved by the communities it represented. Sunday's episode is about "Basic Instinct." Be sure to check that out right here in the POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR feed. Ronald Young Jr., Daisy Rosario, Joelle Monique, thanks to all of you for being here.

YOUNG: Thanks for having me.

MONIQUE: Thank you.

ROSARIO: Thank you.

WELDON: This episode was produced by Candice Lim and Rommel Wood and edited by Jessica Reedy. Special thanks to Kwesi Lee for their help on this episode. And Hello Come In provides our theme music, which you are tapping your little, winged feet to right now. Thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Glen Weldon. And we'll see you all next week, when we will be talking about the new BBC series "Mood."


Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.