Welcome to Bae Watch Wednesday, where I tell you all about the fictional characters you ought to be crushing on. I finally got the chance to see Black Panther, and I’m in awe. So stay tuned for several Bae Watch posts about the awesome people of Wakanda, starting with the one and only King T’Challa himself!
Who is King T’Challa?
King T’Challa is… well, he’s the king of Wakanda. When we first meet T’Challa, however, he’s only the prince. T’Challa first appears in Captain America: Civil War. Wakanda is an isolated African nation. Despite masquerading as a third-world country, Wakanda is actually incredibly advanced thanks to natural deposits of vibranium.
Vibranium was used in Avengers: Age of Ultron to create weapons, so in Civil War Wakanda attempts outreach to make up for their — however unintentional — part in the destruction of Sokovia. This is a big deal; the king, T’Chaka, is going against centuries of isolationist policies.
T’Chaka is speaking to the United Nations when tragedy strikes. The UN is bombed by an unknown assailant — presumed to be Bucky Barnes. T’Chaka tragically dies, but T’Challa escapes mostly unscathed, though he carries deep emotional wounds from watching his father die.
T’Challa is not just a prince, however. He is the Black Panther, the protector of Wakanda. He has superhuman powers and a vibranium suit and is easily a match for the Avengers. T’Challa seeks revenge on Barnes, who is now a fugitive of justice, along with Captain America.
T’Challa ends up on Team Iron Man during the “Civil War,” but he’s really on his own side. In the end, however, T’Challa proves that he rises above petty squabbles. When the truth is revealed — it wasn’t Barnes at all who bombed the UN — T’Challa ceases his attacks. Instead, he offers sanctuary and medical aide to Barnes.
I’ve gone on the record saying that T’Challa was easily the best part of Civil War. Honestly, that movie was quite a let-down, in my opinion. But one shining beacon emerged to redeem it: T’Challa. In a movie focused on pettiness, personal squabbles, and drama, T’Challa proves that he can be better. He emerged from Civil War, the only person who still looked good and heroic.
So I — along with the entire world — had been eagerly awaiting Black Panther. If T’Challa looked so great in a movie where he’s a secondary character, how great would he be in his own movie? The answer: really fuckin’ great.
From the start, Black Panther reinforces that T’Challa is a great character. He is still mourning the death of his father, but he looks to the future instead of obsessing over the past. As his coronation nears, T’Challa wants to be the best king he can for Wakanda.
At the same time, T’Challa is human (or nearly human, anyway), and Black Panther shows this human side of him. One of the earliest scenes in the movie shows T’Challa “rescuing” Nakia, a Wakandan spy — and his ex-girlfriend. Nakia needed no rescue, but T’Challa wants her with him as he deals with his grief and becomes king.
The coronation underscores how right T’Challa is for Wakanda. While the ceremony would normally be strictly for show, he is challenged for the throne by M’Baku, leader of an adversarial tribe. T’Challa bests M’Baku in combat, even without the powers of the Black Panther, and ascends to his rightful place as King T’Challa.
King of Wakanda
T’Challa’s tenure as king doesn’t begin smoothly. First, he goes on a mission to apprehend Ulysses Klaue, a vibranium smuggler. The mission is ultimately successful, but it takes some doing. Worse, T’Challa is unable to kill Klaue when he is put in the spotlight. Instead, he is forced to work with Everett Ross, a CIA agent who is also after Klaue.
Things go wrong when Klaue tells Ross the truth about Wakanda. Then, Klaue is rescued from captivity by a mysterious Wakandan man. T’Challa later finds out that this man is his cousin, Erik Stevens. Erik’s father was a traitor to Wakanda, and T’Chaka had killed him. Erik was left behind in America, where he was raised in not-so-great circumstances.
Now, Erik is back for vengeance. He is known as “Killmonger” for his violent actions in war and was trained by the CIA to destabilize governments. He challenges T’Challa to the throne, which is his right as he is of royal blood. Unlike the battle with M’Baku, T’Challa is losing. Killmonger throws him over the cliffs, and he is presumed dead, making Erik king.
However, T’Challa is not gone. With the help of Nakia, he is brought back to health. In the meantime, Erik plans to scrap Wakandan isolationism. He wants to arm black peoples around the globe to overthrow oppression. T’Challa works together with Nakia, his sister Shuri, and Ross to defeat Killmonger.
In the end, T’Challa wins another duel, while Ross stopped Wakandan weapons from leaving the country. However, T’Challa sees the benefits of ending Wakandan isolationism, thanks to Nakia. He starts a program of outreach and works to improve the world as a whole, not just his own country.
Why is King T’Challa Bae?
Honestly? Look at this man:
And his looks are nowhere near the best thing about him. That’s saying something because Chadwick Boseman can get it. (Side note: Boseman is from South Carolina, where I live! I feel like there’s a ~connection~ there.)
Okay, one would expect nobility from a king. But King T’Challa is a beacon of nobility in a world that includes Captain freaking America. When Cap gave in to his anger and the drama in Civil War, T’Challa rose above. And T’Challa had just as much — if not more — reason to get angry and violent in that movie.
However, T’Challa shows true nobility and humility in Civil War. Captain America was trying to protect a good friend. That’s noble. However, he also lied to another friend and gave into violent impulses. He beat Tony Stark to within an inch of his life. He showed no hesitation to attack his own teammates and even a child when Spider-Man showed up.
T’Challa is focused on revenge, which seems less noble on the surface than saving a friend. T’Challa wants revenge on the man who killed his father. It’s a classic tale, but one that usually doesn’t end so well. But T’Challa rises above expectations. He confines his violence to Bucky Barnes, though he doesn’t hesitate to defend himself.
It’s the end of the movie that shows true nobility. T’Challa learns that Bucky was framed; he had nothing to do with T’Chaka’s death. Immediately, he gives up his pursuit of revenge. When confronted with the man who actually did kill his father, T’Challa stops him from committing suicide so he can face justice.
T’Challa mentions that he has seen vengeance consume too many people. It brought the Avengers down and tore them apart. He will not sink to the same level. T’Challa learns from other’s mistakes and actively seeks to avoid making the same mistakes. He even tries to make amends by protecting the man he tried to kill.
Nobility can be a dry trait, however, admirable as it is. How often has a “noble” character in fiction been the driest, most boring person in the story? T’Challa avoids this by being a very human, likable character. He’s a person you would enjoy spending time with, not just someone you enjoy watching.
Black Panther really drives this home. Civil War was more focused on other characters, so T’Challa was not fully developed (although he is still my favorite character in the movie). Nobility is the stand-out characteristic in that movie. In his own movie? T’Challa emerges as a fun, fully-developed three-dimensional character.
This is really made clear in his interactions with the people around him. Awesome, powerful ladies surround T’Challa. His mother, Ramonda, and his sister, Shuri, keep him grounded by reminding him who he is. His general, Okoye, teases him while always having his back. And Nakia? She challenges him to be better.
Watching the way T’Challa interacts with these women makes me so happy. Often, powerful men are restricted to a toxic form of masculinity, one that relies on belittling women. But King T’Challa is not here for your toxic masculinity. He values the women around him and respects them as valuable members of his retinue.
More than that, T’Challa gives back as good as he gets. He teases Okoye and flirts with Nakia. T’Challa’s interactions with Shuri are on point for anyone who has siblings. The close bond that leaves plenty of room for playful mockery is so real. At the end of the day, T’Challa loves these women and shows this in his actions.
What’s Not To Love?
King T’Challa is easily one of my favorite characters in the entire MCU, and that’s saying something. So far, he’s only appeared in two movies, but he’s stood out. Put him in all the movies going forward, please. I need more King T’Challa in my life.
T’Challa is nobler than Captain America and more fun than Tony Stark. He’s powerful without defaulting to toxic masculinity. He values the people around them, even if they are predominantly women. He stands up for what is right, he admits when he is wrong, and he always strives to do the best he can.
The MCU is huge. Sprawling is a good word for it. The movies span genres, time periods, vast amounts of space. There are so many characters, so many of them genuinely enjoyable. But T’Challa stands out. And when the MCU started to feel tired, Black Panther was here to shake things up and breathe new life into the franchise.
I’m ready to see what Infinity War brings to King T’Challa (hopefully not terrible things, but you know, it’s Infinity War). And I fully expect a Black Panther sequel to bring me more of my favorites!