The relationship between T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) was likely the most oft-discussed relationship of Black Panther, and validly so. There were so many layers to their dynamic, especially given their vastly different yet connected backgrounds. However, their story may have overshadowed another key relationship worth examining: T’Challa and W’Kabi.
Portrayed by Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya, W’Kabi is T’Challa’s best friend and the lover of Dora Milaje head, Okoye (Danai Gurira). With the help of his men — and those super majestic rhinos when need be — W’Kabi is the lead guard for Wakanda’s borders.
Early on in the film, we learn that W’Kabi has a personal grudge against Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who killed his parents. As such, he is eager to go on the mission with T’Challa to retrieve the Wakandan vibranium artifact, but T’Challa urges him to stay and protect the kingdom while he is away. At first, it appears as if W’Kabi wants to carry out the mission side-by-side with his best friend, but it becomes much more apparent that W’Kabi has his own personal agenda when he asks T’Challa to bring Klaue back to Wakanda… dead or alive.
Unfortunately, T’Challa doesn’t get to successfully carry out the mission of capturing Klaue since Killmonger… sort of gets in the way. Killmonger -— recently revealed to be Wakandan — returns to the nation with what W’Kabi wanted the entire time: Klaue’s dead body. Killmonger drops the body at the Wakandan border, physically and figuratively creating a threshold that W’Kabi eventually crosses… what some may call the Wakandan Sunken Place.
Now, of course, the term “sunken place” comes from Kaluuya’s American breakout role in Get Out, and his masterful performance made such an impact that popular culture jokingly decided that the experience with white folks was so traumatizing, he went all the way to Africa. If you remember Get Out correctly, Kaluuya’s Chris fell into a hypnotic state at the sound of stirring tea. In Wakanda, Klaue’s body was basically the stirring tea. As soon as Killmonger dropped that body, W’Kabi blacked out, cast his very best friend to the side and immediately became Team Killmonger. Just like that!
It took the perseverance of Okoye — ever loyal to her nation — to snap him out of it. Unlike W’Kabi, there is not one personal attachment of Okoye’s that comes before Wakanda… not even her own lover. She threatens to kill him and he comes to his senses. Thus, Okoye is basically the flash photography of Wakanda.
In the Marvel comics, W’Kabi acts as T’Challa’s immensely loyal second-in-command, but his fate — and Zuri’s — ends at the hands of supervillain Morlun while trying to protect a wounded T’Challa in Black Panther vol. 5 #5. As for a sequel, maybe he has rekindled things with T’Challa and Okoye? Or maybe not, as you do see at the end of the film M’Baku (Winston Duke) is present with the leaders of the other tribes as T’Challa re-enters the throne room, not W’Kabi.
Regardless of W’Kabi’s future role in the Black Panther film franchise, lets just hope he isn’t easily led astray again.
Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright and Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis.
The film is directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Nate Moore, Jeffrey Chernov and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole wrote the screenplay.
Black Panther is in theaters now.