Black Panther – Part II – Character Arch

At the beginning of the week, I posted Part I of my Black Panther analysis – it covers my view of the structural building blocks of the screenplay/movie. Today, I’ll look into T’Challa’s character arch, his goals, wants and needs and how these change during the course of the story. 

Please note: all opinions and conclusions are my personal take on the subject. I neither picked the script writer’s mind nor do I claim to have the ultimate truth on how to interpret this story. This is an exercise in character arch analysis – nothing more and nothing less. If you don’t agree with parts of my point of view, please feel free to discuss in the comment section.

Attention:
For all who have not yet seen the movie, please be aware of major spoilers if you read on – obviously I’ll have to go into detail when analyzing the story’s character arch. 

Additionally, and because character arches and character motivation has been one of my chief research topics on the craft in recent month. If you are not familiar with the Lie/Truth vs Want/Need – method, I recommend K.M. Weiland’s blog. It’s a treasure!

T’Challa’s Character Arch – Overview

Want: Be as good a king for Wakanda as his father was
Perceived goal: resolve the one failure of his father and protect Wakanda through continued isolationism
Need: find his own way for his kingship and Wakanda’s future

Lie: T’Chaka was a paramount king and to prove myself worthy I must carry on like he did.
Truth: Wakanda’s power can do good for more people than just its own citizens.

T’Challa’s Character Arch – Detailed Analysis:

Starting with two major setup-scenes, the movie then summarizes the recent tragic events in Vienna via a newsreel and establishes T’Challa on the move with Okoye in a highly advanced aircraft. T’Challa, trained and educated by his father T’Chaka has been prepared to succeed to the Wakandan throne one day. But T’Chaka’s death in Vienna is untimely, understandably upsetting T’Challa emotionally and pushing him into the new role without proper time to prepare. Still, he’s determined to fulfill his duty and prepare to be as good a king as his father was. T’Challa holds the believes and values he learned from his father dear. In a way, he starts out with two misconceptions: he learned and firmly believes that isolation is the only way Wakanda can whether the times relatively unharmed and the Lie that his father was a paramount king and a wise man, nearly infallible.

After T’Challa defeats Jabari Tribe leader M’Baku in ritual combat, he sheds the status of an interim king and wins the crown rightfully. During his anointment as Black Panther, he meets his dead father on the spiritual plane. There, he expresses his fears of not living up to the standard he thinks everyone is expecting from him and that he demands of himself, too. Assured by his father’s spirit and reminded of the necessity of maintaining Wakanda’s isolation to keep it safe, he returns to present time, soothed and determined to do right by his people.  His main goal, being a good king, solidifies in keeping things the way they always were.

But not everyone in Wakanda is d’accord with the current secrecy and isolation approach. Even Nakia, T’Challa’s ex-lover, worked tirelessly to help suppressed and persecuted people of other nations. She’s done it in the past, she’s set to go on with it now. Their different views on this issue lead to tension between T’Challa and Nakia and repeat the underlying overall conflict of the story on a personal level. In fact, we see T’Challa confronted with the Truth (aka Wakanda can do good in the world if it chose to employ its resources to help) when T’Challa and Okoye extract Nakia from a mission abroad to join the upcoming enthronement ceremony. 

One of the few failures of T’Chaka’s reign was that he never brought justice upon Ulysses Klaue for attacking Wakanda, killing many people, W’Kabi’s parents among the dead. When, after years of evading Wakandan justice, Klaue is expected to make an appearance in Busan to sell stolen vibranium, T’Challa does what he thinks must be done to achieve his two main goals in the process. On the one hand, he now has the chance to right the one wrong his father was unable to correct during his lifetime: capture or kill Klaue in order to settle a longstanding request by W’Kabi and bring about atonement for his parents’ deaths. On the other hand, he’ll bring back a stolen vibranium artefact that might compromise Wakanda’s secret and therefore fulfilling his goal of maintaining the isolation of the country.

With these new plot goal set, T’Challa sets out for Busan in company of Okoye and Nakia. They mess up and Klaue ends up in CIA custody, with Agent Everett Ross in charge. When Klaue’s team, Eric Stevens among them, breaks him free, Agent Ross saves Nakia from a bullet. Torn between the urge to pursue Klaue to fulfill his promise to W’Kabi and Nakia’s plea to bring Agent Ross to Wakanda and save his life there, T’Challa, to Okoye’s dismay,  opts for the latter and acts in accord with the Truth – using Wakanda’s assets to do good.

Up to the midpoint, T’Challa has learned on at least two major occasions how Wakanda’s power made a significant change for the better: The human trafficker Nakia was spying on, were thwarted and the kidnapped women freed, and Agent Ross’ full made a full recovery in Shuri’s lab. But that’s not all. T’Challa, having seen one of the attackers in Busan wearing a ring like his own on a chain around his neck, goes straight to Zuri and pressures him for the truth about a past long buried. He learns of a decision his father made long ago that now bears grave consequences. The image of his father as infallible and perfect king begins to totter. And it encumbers him with guilt for the actions, a need to make it up this wrong.

Unfortunately, the moment to do just that comes when Eric Stevens aka Killmonger delivers Klaue’s body to M’Kabi, securing his confidence and pitching him against T’Challa. Eric Stevens is the antitheses to all the things he believes in and still, he feels indebted and rattled by the revelation about his father’s and Zuri’s deed. He agrees when he is challenged for the throne. But T’Challa is encumbered by his doubts and has trouble keeping up with Killmonger. When Zuri is killed after trying to intervene, it’s the last straw. He is thrown over the waterfall and left for dead.

On the brink of death, his mother administers the heart-shaped herb to T’Challa and he once more visits his ancestors on the spiritual plane. Here, he confronts his father over the abandonment of Eric Stevens, ultimately leading to him becoming the monster that’s on the throne right now. This marks the destruction of the first part of the Lie: when he realizes that his father was human after all and not free from error. He vows to do better and returns to fight for his people, his country, and his throne.

Restored to the Black Panther power, he learns about Killmonger’s plan to wage war with Wakanda’s weaponry. The new king is striving for ultimate power, not seeing how this makes him just like the white suppressors he’s so eager to fight. T’Challa witnesses, how part of his people openly support this strategy.

During the climax, he resumes his battle with Killmonger. He has relinquished the Lie (My father was infallible and to be a good king I must do as he did) but has not yet incorporated the Truth (Wakanda can do better and help their brothers and sisters abroad) In a way he still pursues the original goal (keep Wakanda’s secret from the world) that was but a perceived solution to his want to be a great king like his father, while the real solution would be to embrace Wakanda’s long neglected responsibility to use its resources to do good in the world.

When Killmonger is fatally hurt and reveals himself as a deeply troubled human who has never found a safe haven to grow up in, T’Challa realizes that he needs to find a better way. Eric Stevens is but one person gone astray due to lack of support, lack of a caring community, lack of peaceful opportunity. Eric chooses death. He can’t go on, facing imprisonment, knowing he did not succeed in bringing about change for the suppressed he was fighting for.

With Eric dead, all five tribes joined for the first time in peace and mutual respect, T’Challa sets about changing Wakanda’s way, reaching out and offering help. With the post credit scene in front of the United Nations where his father died giving his speech, we circle back to the beginning and T’Challa fully commits to the new role Wakanda is to play from this day forth.

Conclusion:

Black Panther is a powerful movie with a strong and valuable message: If you possess the power to do good, you should not shy away from it. Or, as we know it from the Spiderman motto: with great power comes great responsibility. 😉

Themes include progress vs. conservation, suppression, responsibility, and destiny.

Do you agree? Please comment!

Black Panther – Part I – Story Structure

Last year I wrote a post about the story structure and character arch of Diana Prince aka  Wonder Woman and thought I go ahead and try the same for Black Panther. Since the post about Wonder Woman turned out quite long, I chose to split the analysis of Black Panther into two parts. First the story structure and later this week the analysis of the corresponding character arch

This post covers my take on the major story structure elements. Please note: all of this is solely my opinion. I neither know what the scriptwriters had in mind nor do I claim to have the ultimate truth on how to interpret this story. This is an exercise in story structure analysis – nothing more and nothing less. 

Attention:
For all who have not yet seen the movie, please be aware of major spoilers in the following text. I obviously have to go into detail when analyzing the story’s structure. I’ll be using the basic Three-Act-Structure to do so. Like most successful stories, Black Panther follows it’s typical outline.

Additionally, and because that’s been one of my chief research topics on the craft, I want to look into the character arch for T’Challa, Black Panther and King of Wakanda. If you are not familiar with the Three-Act-Structure I recommend K.M. Weiland’s blog. It’s a treasure!

Story Structure – Overview:

Hook: old legend/history story about Wakanda
Inciting Event: Young T’Chaka kills his brother N’Jobu, saving Zuri
Key Event: after T’Chaka’s death T’Challa becomes interim King/Black Panther
First Plot Point: T’Challa gains the throne via ritual combat
First Pinch: the capture of Ulysses Klaue fails
Midpoint: Killmonger arrives with dead Klaue and lays claim to the throne
Second Pinch: T’Challa dies (seemingly)
Third Plot Point: T’Challa is resurrected and resumes the fight for his kingdom
Climax: T’Challa and Killmonger fight on the tracks of the Vibranium trains
Climatic Moment: Killmonger chooses death over imprisonment
Resolution: King T’Challa ends the isolation of Wakanda

Story Structure – Detailed Analysis:

The movie starts with an animated legend-story Hook that is a classic “setup via mythology.” The scene serves several purposes: 1) We get an introduction of the treasure hidden in Wakanda (Vibranium), the origin of the Black Panther (Bast/Bastet and heart-shaped herb) and the political/society setup of the four Wakandan tribes. 2) it showcases the longstanding isolation all former Wakandan kings have enforced on the country. This, in fact, informs about the main conflict of the movie, too: the habit of guarding their secret despite chaos, slavery, and war raging just beyond their borders.

With this information set up, the story resumes directly with the Inciting Moment. We witness an incident in Oakland, CA, in the late 20th century between the late King T’Chaka and his brother Prince N’Jobu. We learn about an attack on Wakanda, a lethal robbery of vibranium and the prime suspect, the criminal Ulysses Klaue. The further revelations lead to N’Jobu losing his life by T’Chaka’s hand. But his life, as we will only learn later, will not be the only thing lost that day. The Inciting Moment deepens the main conflict and adds another layer: part of the royal family is no longer willing to hide Wakanda’s power behind the shield of the carefully crafted illusion of a poor third-world-country but instead use it to help overcome the suffering in black communities all over the world.

Following right after that follows the Key Event. We are back to the present day where we get a “newsreel” summary of the events that took place in the “Avengers: Civil War” movie, to bring all those who haven’t seen it (are there any?) up to speed about the death of T’Chaka in Vienna. T’Challa, T’Chaka’s designated successor, is preparing for the sacred ritual that will make him King of Wakanda. I identify this as the Key Event because T’Chaka’s death is the moment when T’Challa gets personally involved with the main conflict: he is the interim ruler and therefore responsible for protecting Wakanda’s future until a new king is chosen.

Even though T’Chaka’s death seems good enough a “doorway of no return”, it is not the First Plot Point. Just now, T’Challa, acting as an interim king, is not yet officially chosen by his people. At this point he could still walk away, decide the burden of kingship is too much to bear and let others step up – his sister Shuri for example. Only when he proceeds with the ritual and defeats the surprise-contender M’Baku from the Jabari Tribe in ritual combat, does he chose the path of kingship and truly takes up responsibility for Wakanda’s future.

Anointed and made Black Panther again by means of the heart-shaped herb, T’Challa’s first challenge as King comes by way of the discovery of the long-time fugitive and enemy of the state number one – Ulysses Klaue. The mission to extract the man from Busan, South Korea, fails and marks the First Pinch Point. Klaue, who’s unscrupulous methods have been showcased in earlier scenes, wrecks havoc in the underground casino and escapes at first, gets then taken after a wild car-chase through Busan’s streets with the help of CIA agent Everett Ross, but is ultimately broken free from CIA custody by his gangster-crew, severely wounding Ross in the process.

Coming back to Wakanda empty-handed is a bitter setback for T’Challa. He not only falls short of his pledge to W’Kabi to bring back or kill the criminal Klaue, but he’s brought back a stranger/colonizer/white man on the brink of death, who is a CIA agent to boot, choosing to help the man who saved Nakia in favour of going after Klaue right away. Naturally, W’Kabi is upset. The will prove to be important soon after, when the Midpoint comes along in form of Eric Killmonger, disposing of Klaue and his team and delivering Klaue’s body to W’Kabi.

The Midpoint is an excellent plot twist and picks up on a “loose end” of the early setup-scene in Oakland. The audience learns that Eric Stevens aka Killmonger is not only of Wakandan heritage but of royal blood and T’Challa’s cousin. Shaped by his father N’Jobu’s views and later radicalized by his own experiences, first as a young boy left behind and later as a back ops soldier for the US special forces, Killmonger is after the throne and determined to use Wakanda’s technological advancements to strike back against the ongoing white suppression all over the world. This raises the overall tension somewhat. Not only do we know he’s got the means to overthrow T’Challa, he is in a way entitled to claim the throne by ritual combat. Furthermore, his presumed plan to end Wakanda’s reclusion and openly fight white suppression is antithetical to what Wakanda has been standing for centuries. 

T’Challa, having learned about the events leading up to the abandonment of Eric Stevens as a young boy, agrees to a ritual combat for the crown. The Second Pinch Point arrives when this fight takes a turn for the worst possible outcome. T’Challa struggles to fight the experienced Killmonger, Zuri tries to intervene and is killed, which in turn upsets T’Challa in such a way that he can’t win the fight against Killmonger. He is overpowered and thrown into the river.

With T’Challa presumably dead and Killmonger anointed as king, Nakia rushes to bring the rest of the royal family and Agent Ross to safety and elicit help from whatever sources possible. Okoye declines to turn against the throne, her sense of duty does not allow it. Short of allies and just in time before Killmonger orders the whole stock to be burnt, Nakia manages to steal one heart-shaped herb, hoping to coax M’Baku of the Jabari Tribe into taking it, fighting to free Wakanda from the rule of a war-crazy outsider. The story arrives at the Third Plot Point, when Nakia, T’Challa’s mother, his sister, and Agent Ross arrive at the M’Baku’s seat and offer the herb to him, he leads them to a not-yet-but-almost-dead T’Challa who is then revived and restored to full health and the power of the Black Panther with the help of the heart-shaped herb. The prominent death that’s usually featured with the Third Plot Point is inverted here. The presumed death took place at the 2nd  Pinch Point and now we witness a resurrection instead. 

T’Challa’s revival wraps up the 2nd half of the 2nd act neatly by pitching the two main characters against each other in open fight. Their views regarding the main conflict are diametrically opposed. With both of them clad in Black Panther suits and enhanced by the heart-shaped herb, this fight is quite balanced. Nakia, Shuri, and Agent Ross join in the fight on T’Challa’s side, as does Okoye as soon as she realizes the ritual combat is not finished.

We near the Climax, when the Jabari Tribe joins the melee while T’Challa and Killmonger duel on the train tracks in the vibranium mine. There’s a side-climatic moment when W’Kabi yields to Okoye, ending the fighting between Wakanda’s citizens. But T’Challa and Killmonger are still hacking away at each other in the train tracks. The sonic disruptors mess with both their suits, exposing vulnerable spots. Exploiting Killmongers arrogance and certainty to win, T’Challa manages to stab him.   

Critically wounded, Killmonger reveals a shred of humanness as he remembers his father and all the broken promises and lost opportunities. We get a glimpse of a deeply troubled and lonely person. T’Challa, recognizing at last part of Eric’s state of mind as a direct consequence of T’Chaka’s actions, shows compassion and leads Eric, the deadly weapon still embedded in his chest, up to the mouth of the Black Panther cave/mine to witness the fabled and longed for sunset in Wakanda. This leads directly to the climatic moment. Eric/Killmonger isn’t dead yet. When T’Challa offers to heal Eric, he declines, choosing death over life in prison, forced to witness the ongoing suppression of his people. He pulls out the lance, sealing his fate and leaving T’Challa the rightful king and sole Black Panther once more.

The Resolution of the story wraps up several story strands. We see M’Baku join the tribal council, uniting all Wakandan tribes for the first time. T’Challa, changed by the events, reconsiders Wakanda’s stance on secrecy, rejects the isolationism of all the past kings, and moves to set up the first outreach-center in Oakland. In the first post-credit scene, the movie comes full circle, wrapping up the sincerity of T’Challa’s plans by showing him back in Vienna, announcing Wakanda’s new stance in front of the United Nations council.   

Conclusion:

Black Panther is a well structured and expertly crafted movie. The story hits the major structural points just right. Any variations made, add to the overall tension and enjoyment. 

Do you agree? Please comment!

And here’s the linkt to Part II – Character Arch again.