Over the next week, The Atlantic’s “And, Scene” series will delve into some of the most interesting films of the year by examining a single, noteworthy cinematic moment from 2018. First up is Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. (Read our previous entries here.)
By the time we revisit the waterfall in Black Panther, about 75 minutes into the film, every viewer understands the stakes of the place. Warrior Falls is Wakanda’s ceremonial proving ground, a spectacular but deadly setting that maintains the status quo of the fictional African nation. Earlier in the movie, T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) claims the mantle of king by defeating a challenger, the hulking M’Baku (Winston Duke), in single combat at the site. It’s a moment that lays out the various political powers at play in this secluded country, and the value still placed on tradition even though Wakanda’s technology has reached unparalleled heights.
The return to the falls is spurred by Erik Stevens, a.k.a. Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), an outsider raised in the United States who is seeking to claim T’Challa’s throne. A forgotten cousin whose dad was killed by T’Challa’s father for threatening to expose Wakanda’s innovations to the world, Erik is an interloper, but his royal blood allows him to declare a challenge. On the day of the fight, he’s dressed not in formal Wakandan attire like his opponent and the rest of the onlookers, but in his U.S. military fatigues and armor. When handed a traditional spear, he splits it in half by kicking it.