Spoiler warning: Don’t read this, obviously, if you don’t want to hear about the ending of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Many spoilers follow.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ends joyously, with the revelation that before his death, King T’Challa fathered a son with Nakia (Lupita N’yongo), the love of his life. Nakia reveals to Shuri (Letitia Wright), the boy’s aunt, that she has been raising her adorable 6-year-old son solo in her new country, Haiti, where he has taken the great name of Toussaint. But his real name, he reveals to Shuri, is the same as his father’s: T’Challa.
When I saw Wakanda Forever, people streamed out of the theater talking about what a beautiful moment it was. It reminded us all that when one story ends, another begins. In a way it even softened the blow of losing a fictional character we love, though not the blow of losing the actor who played him so regally.
But as effective as the moment was in providing a powerful emotional climax for the audience, it makes no sense, the more you think about it, within the universe of Black Panther. Yes, the big reveal is set up earlier in Wakanda Forever, as Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) tries to tell Shuri something important about her brother. But then something comes up, and the big reveal is left to Nakia. Which — for reasons we’ll get into — feels false.
The first potential issue: Does T’Challa seem like the kind of man who would be cool with the love of his life, Nakia, traveling to the other side of the world, Haiti, to raise his only child, who also happens to be the heir to the Wakandan throne? His endless loyalty to his family and his great nation make the scenario unlikely. Nakia explains to Shuri that she didn’t want her son growing up around all the stressful business of succession, but come on: No one talks to little kids about succession plans, except on House of the Dragon. If she wanted to dodge the Wakandan tabloids (a big if, because Wakanda is too advanced for tabloids, right?) she and T’Challa could have easily found a love nest up in the mountains, protected by the Jabari or a wing of the Dora Milaje, and forbidden anyone from mentioning young T’Challa’s princeling status, even as his parents commuted into the big city for important meetings and battles and handled everything else via Zoom.
But there is actually a very solid explanation for Nakia deciding to go it alone without T’Challa: The Snap.
T’Challa, remember, was among the half of all people on Earth who disappeared at the end of 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, and didn’t return for five years. He wasn’t around to be a father to his son, because he spent five years not existing. (Or existing as ash. Or something.) Perhaps, facing life as a single parent, Nakia decided to seek out a fresh start in beautiful Haiti instead of staying in a country where everything reminds her of the elder T’Challa.
The timing is tight, but it checks out: Let’s assume he and Nakia conceived their son sometime around or after the events of the first Black Panther. Then T’Challa was snapped from existence, and returned after five years (one year for us fans) in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. Soon after this, in a tragic twist of fate, he dies of the mysterious disease that claims his life in the excellent, moving opening of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. As Nakia explains, she opted not to bring her son home for the funeral for various reasonable reasons.
So this all checks out, too.
What makes no sense is that for six years — with the near-exception of Ramonda — no one bothered to tell Shuri that she’s an aunt. Not her brother or mother, to whom she’s exceptionally close, and not Nakia. Okay: Maybe T’Challa was busy dealing with Thanos, and then being a nonentity for five years. But why wouldn’t Ramonda mention it? Or Nakia? It isn’t like Shuri is a reckless gossip who would go posting pictures of the baby on Instagram. It isn’t like Shuri and her relatives are estranged. She’s one of the most reliable and trusted people in the family, and in Wakanda.
There’s kind of an explanation here, too: Shuri also disappeared in The Snap. She, like her brother, was gone for five years. So it makes sense that no one told her about little Toussaint/T’Challa — during those five years.
But if you came back from five years away, and asked people, “Did I miss anything?” wouldn’t you expect them to tell you, very quickly, that you were going to be an aunt for the first time? Even if you were very busy — if your brother had a terminal disease you were trying to cure, and you were trying to rebuild a country and world that had just lost, then regained, half its population in just five years — someone would tell you. The birth of a new child is a massive moment in any family, and especially in a family that rules the most advanced country in the world. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever withholds news of the child until a critical point in the film, for maximum dramatic effect.
Of course we all give every movie some suspension of disbelief and grace when it comes to storytelling — especially when we’re rooting hard for the film to succeed, amid terrible tragedy. But the final scene of the Wakanda Forever unravels key things we thought we knew about Shuri, our new lead character, and her dynamic with the people she loves most. It’s a frustrating case of something working emotionally without making sense.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now in theaters.