* Spoilers ahead
Over the weekend, my family went to see “Wakanda Forever,” the sequel to “Black Panther.”
As Marvel fans, we were excited for the movie. I knew that the movie’s star, Chadwick Boseman, who’d played King T’Challa, had died recently. I wasn’t prepared, though, for what we were about to see.
Early in the movie, we experience the funeral of King T’Challa, which is moving in and of itself. The mourners are draped in white, and watching, I was aware that the film itself was grieving both the loss of Boseman, as well as the character of T’Challa. It reminded me, too, how important rituals can be in walking through our grief; while rituals can’t erase the pain, they can be grounding, especially in a culture that tends to shroud death and grief instead of accepting it as part of the natural rhythm of life.
These layers of grief are woven throughout the film, and we see it most intensely in T’Challa’s sister, Shuri. Played brilliantly by Letitia Wright, we watch as Shuri wrangles with the monumental loss of her brother. The weight of being the one left behind was palpable. We expect to lose our parents and grandparents; our siblings, are among the few people we anticipate having an entire lifetime with.
And yet, sibling loss has long been considered a disenfranchised grief, referred to in grief literature as “invisible mourners.” While no one can say for sure why this is the case, there’s an unwritten agreement that the death of one’s child is the hardest loss to bear. Given this, attention and concern tend to flow to the grieving parents. As siblings, we often feel forgotten, despite the immensity of our loss; we have lost not only our brother or sister, but our family as we knew it.
Though T’Challa was a king mourned by a nation, Shuri’s grief still throbbed with loneliness. Her mother, as is common amongst grieving families, dealt with her loss differently than Shuri.
It’s been nearly 24 years since I lost my brother; he’s been gone longer than he was alive. And yet, the loss lingers. It doesn’t haunt me like it did in the early years, but it still lives within me. My life is lovely; I have a beautiful family, work that I love, and, like every other soul on this earth, challenges. But as I walk through my life, I will always be conscious of my brother’s absence. I won’t ever stop wishing he was still alongside me.
“Wakanda Forever” is the first movie I recall seeing that so accurately depicts sibling loss; how appropriate that it opened in November, Bereaved Sibling Month. Early on, Shuri is shattered by her brother’s death. Over time, she’s literally transformed by it. She grafts parts of King T’Challa into herself, becoming a chimera, a living tribute to him. She will never be who she was when he was alive; she will always prefer he was still alongside her, that she had not had to transform herself because of his absence. We know the loss will stay with her, echoing the film’s title, forever.
I felt neutral about much of the movie’s plot, but strangely, that didn’t matter. Because even as I was entertained, I felt both seen and shown.
“Wakanda Forever” and its portrayal of the complexities of loss is a movie that will linger with me for a long time.