Respect for the Next Generation is Key in ‘Black Panther’

The relationship between T’Challa and his sister, Shuri, should be Marvel’s new family blueprint.
By  · Published on February 7th, 2018

The relationship between T’Challa and his sister, Shuri, should be Marvel’s new family blueprint.

To say that superhero movies aren’t about rebirth would be a bit of a fallacy. The sheer amount of times we’ve seen Batmen and Spider-Men on screen is a testament to the genre’s taste for reinvention. But what of actual children — or rather, the next generation as a whole — within established continuity as opposed to just scrapping everything and starting over?

Slowly but surely, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is passing the torch from old heroes to new ones. It seems Black Panther will be a great, badass addition to that lineage with its respectful portrayal of familial relationships.

During the Black Panther press conference, Letitia Wright — who plays T’Challa’s inventive younger sister, Shuri — was asked a fun question about gadgets, which evolved into a wider discussion about Shuri’s capabilities. Moderator Nischelle Turner then turned to Chadwick Boseman and posed him a question: “[Do] you think she’s smarter than Black Panther?”

Boseman’s initial answer — “I allow her to be.” — might seem antithetical to everyone’s praises for Black Panther‘s commitment to equality and inclusion. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, as according to the film’s cast and crew, the social constructs in Wakanda are simply built on respect for women. As Wright states, in the film “the men are always behind the women, as well. So no one’s undermined. […] T’Challa is like, ‘Go ahead, Sis. This is your department. This is your domain. Kill it.’”

In Wakanda, it is clear that women are equal to men, in every sense of the word. In a country and culture where women get to be beautiful and powerful — where beauty is an unconventional and open concept anyway (the shaved heads rocked by the ladies of the Dora Milajem for instance) — brains and brawn are amongst the skills that are highly valued. This sense of veneration for every character, regardless of age and gender, creates cohesion in Wakanda — something we haven’t seen in the Western worlds of other MCU movies.

Boseman explains:

“I think, when you talk about what Wakanda is, and what it would have to be in order to progress to the place that we saw — even though we’re talking about a fantasy — the idea of an unconquered nation, that has not been, you know, tampered with by the various means that it would have been tampered with. The idea of the next generation being smarter, being better than you is a concept that they would have evolved to that. You know, so even though…we’re in the same generation…she benefits from whatever I have reached. So you want your sons and daughters to be better than you were.

[…] And so to a certain degree when I say, you know, ‘I allow her’… I’m meaning it like, you see the genius that is inside the people that come after you. And if you have an ancestor around, they’re looking at you like… ‘I know you’re looking up to me, but we’re looking up to you.’”

Parent-child or any kind of mentor relationship in the early phases of the MCU leave plenty to be desired. Howard and Tony Stark had a rocky, borderline resentful relationship. Steve Rogers’ parents weren’t ever shown onscreen. Odin could be seen as the worst father to both Thor and Loki. At least, until Ego came along just last year to mess with Peter Quill. Luckily for us, Marvel seems keen to buck a trend.

One of the reasons why Spider-Man: Homecoming works so well is because Aunt May is hardly an unreasonable parental figure. She’s in Peter Parker’s corner but also tries to figure out how to raise a teenager on her own. May doesn’t disrespect Peter’s autonomy. Although some of that could be attributed to pure cluelessness at just what her nephew gets up to when he’s not in school, it’s a good start to shifting the tone towards a sturdier family unit. It is also worth pointing out that Tony fulfills some parental role for Peter in Homecoming. Overall, everyone is just making sure Peter has a good head on his shoulders.

Black Panther sounds like it’ll be a logical next step to further that concept, unveiling a fully healthy familial relationship that isn’t hindered by secrecy. Shuri is Peter’s age, and she is the smartest person in the world. She creates all the technology in Wakanda, including T’Challa’s amazing vibranium-infused suit, and as a result is vital to the protection of the entire country. Shuri is helped along by an older brother who understands her potential and doesn’t hold her back, which is an exceptionally important message to send to audiences of all ages who will go out to see the film in droves.

This is but one of the ways in which Black Panther reinvents the wheel and creates a special experience for fans who are highly anticipating the film. Relationships of all kinds fuel movies and act as anchors for our love for characters. Black Panther‘s commitment not only to women in general but young women specifically, presents a deeply relatable, empowering moment within the fabric of a giant blockbuster. Moreover, it’s cool to see Marvel attempting to move away from the idea that superheroes have to be messed up to be great. That’s the best message for the MCU to send as it heads into the second half of Phase Three.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)