The first teaser for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever confirmed what many fans had suspected — someone else would take up the mantle of the Black Panther after T’Challa’s (and star Chadwick Boseman’s) death.
And with Monday’s full trailer, Marvel has finally hinted at who might take over. In a continuing trend of the Marvel’s recent Phases, a woman will step into the role of Wakanda’s protector.
The question is, who? Let’s explore the possibilities.
Shuri as Black Panther
Let’s get the obvious one on the table first. In Marvel Comics lore, Shuri has stepped into the boots of the Black Panther before, when supervillains trapped T’Challa in a state between life and death. She earned Bast’s blessing and underwent the trials to ingest the heart-shaped herb, all while stopping a war. Even after T’Challa recovered, he took a break from being Black Panther and let her keep the job for a while.
Suffice to say, Letitia Wright’s Shuri has plenty of precedent to put on the costume. And, well, the new costume’s mask has her characteristic makeup. But just in case that’s a red herring, here are some other options.
Traditionally, in the comics, the role of Black Panther falls first to someone in Wakanda’s line of succession. But in 2018’s Black Panther, Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole introduced a ceremony in which Wakanda’s political factions are given a chance to best the Black Panther in single combat, and thereby win the mantle and crown. Which means it doesn’t have to be Shuri under that mask.
Another strong possibility for the role is Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, with plenty of experience as one of Wakanda’s covert War Dog operatives and the utmost loyalty to the royal family, as demonstrated in Black Panther (2018). If Marvel Studios has managed to lock in the Academy Award-winning actress to a lead role, that would be a pretty big deal.
Finally, if the new Black Panther is going to be anyone introduced in Black Panther, and not Shuri, and not Nakia, it could be that we’ll see Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje, in the costume. She has the skills, and Danai Gurira, who has reprised the character twice in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, has a history of making time for Marvel movies. It also seems like the MCU’s version of the Dora Milaje will be further explored in Wakanda Forever, including their elite flying troops, the Midnight Angels. Perhaps it’s all in prep for Okoye to take on the position she’s always served under?
Speaking of the Midnight Angels, just about the wildest pull Marvel could make here would be to tap one of the new cast members of Wakanda Forever, and in that category none are better positioned than Michaela Coel’s Aneka. Very little is known about the MCU version of the character, but in Marvel Comics, Aneka is among the best of the Dora Milaje. She and her lover, Ayo — played by Florence Kasumba in Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — defected from the Dora in protest of T’Challa’s unilateral rule and to fight more directly for the safety of women in Wakanda’s countryside.
But therein lies the depressing reason she’s probably not in that costume: Her character is canonically queer, and has been since her first appearance. While Marvel Studios has made some small steps toward queer representation in the MCU, it still relegates such characters to tertiary roles and blink-or-you’ll-miss-it moments.
So, in conclusion? It’s almost certainly Shuri. The quippy princess was a breakout character from Black Panther, while Wright is at the right place in her career (the beginning of it) to sign on for an Avengers-level role in the MCU. Shuri has comics precedent for being Wakanda’s highest protector, and the movie’s new costume appears to share her character design.
But there’s no doubt that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will have plenty of surprises in store beyond who’s in the title role.
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