The BLACK PANTHER legacy begins with a king, and where there are kings, there is the issue of succession and legacy. T’Challa begins the film a king suddenly thrust into power after the unexpected death of his father, King T’Chaka.

The film touches on how the weight of the Black Panther legacy affects Wakanda; in fact, the core of BLACK PANTHER hinges upon the idea of legacy. Wakanda’s informed by a long line of leaders whose beliefs have kept the country’s technological advancements hidden for decades. There are obvious repercussions to this decision.

When T’Challa becomes king, he finds that it might be time to challenge that legacy.

T’Challa in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

As far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is concerned, T’Challa is introduced as the prince of Wakanda whose grief in the wake of his father’s death at the hands of an H.Y.D.R.A. terrorist threatens to consume him. Though we don’t get to see much of King T’Chaka, it’s clear how much T’Challa loves him from their brief interactions.

In the initial aftermath, T’Challa believes that Bucky, the somewhat recovered Winter Soldier, is responsible for his father’s murder. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR presents audiences with a version of T’Challa coming into his own and finding the strength to lead his people without his father by his side. It’s an intimidating prospect.

T'Challa at the Sokovia Accords black panther legacy
When you didn’t even want to go to the meeting but your dad made you.

The Black Panther Legacy: Isolation or Outreach?

Wakanda is known, or perhaps more accurately, not known for being anything special. BLACK PANTHER opens with a news clip debriefing audiences. The report reminds viewers that T’Chaka did die in CIVIL WAR, as well as the fact Wakanda is a third-world country.

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No one knows that the country is rich in vibranium, the strongest metal in the world, or that Wakanda has also harnessed the metal to create technological advancements beyond Tony Stark’s wildest dreams. Wakanda’s legacy is to remain hidden in order to avoid exploitation. The history of the African continent looms heavy over the kingdom, a reminder of what could’ve been.

Decades of isolation makes it difficult for T’Challa to decide that public outreach might be the better option. Wakanda remains hidden simply because that’s the way things are. To change that fact would be to change Wakanda and put the country at risk. Newly-crowned T’Challa attempts to convince Nakia to stay in Wakanda. However, this isn’t what she wants. 

Marvel's BLACK PANTHER
Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa with Lupita Nyongo’o’s Nakia. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Nakia, a War Dog, tells T’Challa that she can’t just stand by while everyone around them is suffering and they have the ability to help — as she points out, Wakanda is perfectly capable of taking care of itself. T’Challa’s conversation with Nakia proves to be one of the many situations that force him to question Wakanda’s legacy of isolation.

Klaue and T’Chaka’s Lasting Mistake

T’Challa’s first real mission as the King of Wakanda is to find Klaue. Many years prior, Klaue broke into Wakanda with the help of N’Jobu, T’Chaka’s brother, and the crown prince. Klaue stole precious vibranium and killed several people, including W’Kabi’s parents. There are several factors in play here.

First, T’Challa has something to prove with his first official act as king. Second, Klaue is the one loose end remaining from T’Chaka’s reign. There is pressure on T’Challa to succeed where his father could not. Third, W’Kabi, a dear friend of T’Challa’s, wants revenge for the parents he lost in Klaue’s attack decades ago.

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However, Erik Killmonger foils T’Challa’s attempt to capture Klaue. W’Kabi saw T’Challa taking the throne as an opportunity for change. He advocated for Wakanda to begin imperializing the outside world and was quick to join Killmonger’s side after the challenge. This failure drives a wedge between them.

Perhaps the most important part of T’Chaka’s Black Panther legacy is Erik Killmonger himself. If T’Chaka hadn’t abandoned Erik in Oakland and killed N’Jobu, there is a good chance the events of the film would have never come to pass.

BLACK PANTHER legacy villains
Karma sucks.

When T’Challa finds out about Killmonger and what his father and Zuri did in Oakland, he is horrified. Later, when Nakia feeds him the heart-shaped herb in the Jabari tribe stronghold, T’Challa expresses his rage and disappointment with his father. The spiritual plane and Black Panther legacy tells him that it is time to pass on permanently, but T’Challa cannot in good conscience leave Wakanda behind to suffer.

It is the mark of a good king and one who is willing to change ways previously set in stone.

Erik Killmonger and the Spiritual Plane

Both T’Challa and Killmonger, after taking the heart-shaped herb, visit the spiritual plane. The differences between them are striking; T’Challa’s is in an empty plain, surrounded by the Black Panthers of old. Killmonger’s spiritual plane, on the other hand, is in the tiny apartment where he and his father lived in L.A. It’s where the young Killmonger found his father’s dead body with panther claw marks in his chest.

The conversation Killmonger and his father have in the spiritual plane is sad. Killmonger reverts to a child-like version of himself and the scene passes almost as if it were a memory rather than a true conversation with his deceased father. In this spiritual plane, N’Jobu tearfully tells his son how beautiful Wakanda is.

He believes that it’s unlikely Erik will ever get to see his ancestral home. Both father and son are lost to the legacy of Wakanda. Erik doesn’t get to see older Black Panthers. Defiantly, Erik tells N’Jobu, “Maybe your home’s the ones that’s lost.” Perhaps he’s right.

Where Was Wakanda?

When Erik Killmonger appears to win the challenge for the title of king of Wakanda, the first thing he does is question the council of Wakanda elders. Killmonger is not wrong when he says that Wakanda failed their people — so many atrocities occurred just outside of their borders and yet they did nothing.

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Though his goal of complete and total world domination (“The sun will never set on the Wakandan empire”) shouldn’t be admired or replicated, Killmonger’s not wrong in his beliefs. The conflict between Killmonger and T’Challa stems not from a difference in ideology, but a difference in how to pursue that ideology.

The final scene of BLACK PANTHER finds T’Challa and Shuri in Oakland, outside of the building where their uncle N’Jobu died. T’Challa, taking the first step in establishing a new Black Panther legacy of his own. The condemned apartment building (as well as the rest of the block) is set to become a youth outreach center.

Shuri and Nakia will staff them. In the end credit scene for BLACK PANTHER, T’Challa prepares to reveal Wakanda’s true nature to the entire United Nations. Legacy is important, but it’s even more important to have a legacy you can be proud of.

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