The Unsung Heart of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Angela Bassett’s character models a trait that’s rare amid superhero chaos and violence: self-restraint.

Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda, sitting on a throne in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever"
Marvel Studios

This story contains major spoilers for the film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a film forged under immense pressure. As my colleague David Sims noted in his review, the Marvel movie had to set up the franchise’s many future story lines and also serve as a memorial to the late Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman and his character, T’Challa. For the most part, the movie juggles these divergent aims well. It establishes Shuri (played by Letitia Wright) as the new Black Panther, tracing her maturation from the goofy and gifted little sister to a hero in her own right. It introduces a complex new villain, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the ancient ruler of a secret underwater civilization called Talokan. And it never loses sight of how grief operates—as an invisible, transformative pain that manifests in unexpected ways.

Yet the sprawling film feels grounded only because of a character who dies halfway through: Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda. As T’Challa and Shuri’s mother, she never expected to become a ruler herself, but she exemplifies Wakanda’s vibranium-tough resilience from the opening scene. She’s both a leader and a mother: At T’Challa’s funeral, Ramonda looks resolute, putting on a brave face before her people; when she’s alone with Shuri, she shows her vulnerability, sharing how she processes her emotions and encouraging her daughter to do the same. She’s trusting enough to indulge Okoye’s (Danai Gurira) request to take Shuri on a mission, but is steely enough to dismiss the general when she loses the princess to Namor’s troops. And when Namor arrives on Wakanda’s shores, Ramonda grabs her spear first, shielding Shuri and warning the trespasser, “I am not a woman who enjoys repeating herself. Who are you?”

Shuri may be the one who stops Namor in Wakanda Forever’s final act, but Ramonda’s scenes opposite the new villain are alight with an unpredictable energy. Both she and Namor are characters with long histories defined by loss. They are expected to guide their people with unflinching confidence but have come to fear that they can never offer true protection. Both simmer with composed rage over the world’s intent to exploit their resources. Namor, having witnessed colonizers destroy his ancestral Yucatán homeland, pursues war. He believes a preemptive strike against his enemies is the only way to properly defend Talokan, going so far as to hunt down a teenager, Riri (Dominique Thorne), for inventing a device that detects his kingdom’s vibranium. Ramonda, however, governs with diplomacy in mind. She’s not afraid to threaten the countries that have attempted to infiltrate Wakanda, but her anguish hasn’t festered into resentment. The film suggests that their dilemmas are more similar than the pair realize—and that the only difference is in how much self-control each exercises.

Take Ramonda’s forceful monologue early in the film. After Okoye fails to prevent the Talokanil people from kidnapping Shuri, the queen is counseled to go easy on her; Okoye has, like many Wakandans, suffered from years of turmoil. But Ramonda doesn’t change her position. “I am queen of the most powerful nation in the world, and my entire family is gone,” she says. “Have I not given everything?” That she ends her statement rhetorically is illuminating: Ramonda is not trying to beat Okoye and her advisers into submission; she wants to show them why her sympathy can’t extend to forgiving crucial mistakes. Stripping Okoye of her title is a harsh necessity, not a reckless power play. That move underlines her character’s importance, despite her untimely death. She’s the rare model of self-discipline in a world of chaos and violence; her wisdom influences her people long after she’s gone.

Bassett gives a carefully calibrated performance. The Oscar-nominated actor has often played bold characters and ones who channel quiet strength. But her work as Ramonda in Wakanda Forever requires more than poise and intensity. She subtly shades emotional nuance in the film when the script cannot: Her dignified silence contrasts deeply with Shuri’s outward devastation, and her ramrod posture before Namor emphasizes his restless physicality. Though she never dons any suits or wields any magical abilities, Ramonda is perhaps the bridge between T’Challa’s Black Panther and Shuri’s. Like her son’s, her fortitude comes from her belief that Wakanda has a place on a peaceful global stage. She’s a reminder to Shuri that a leader cannot be driven purely by vengeance; they must also draw from the heart, the very shape of the herb that grants the Black Panther power. The performance has initiated awards speculation for Bassett—though, like her character, the actor has offered only the most tactful of responses to the attention. “You don’t do these kinds of projects for the awards,” she told Variety.

In her final scene, Ramonda swims submerged through the flooded throne room to save Riri, holding her with one arm and reaching toward the surface with the other. Wakanda Forever is a busy film that bounces around the globe, taking characters into underwater cities and mountaintop hideouts, but the director Ryan Coogler lets this shot linger. As it plays, Ramonda looks supernatural—not a superhero, but a force of nature. She’s quite literally carrying a weight, yet she finds a way to carry on, an embodiment of Wakanda’s endurance—and Wakanda Forever’s steadfast message.