The following post contains very minor spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Almost the entire supporting cast of Black Panther returns in the sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, to continue Wakanda’s story, and to pay tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman. Other than Boseman’s T’Challa, almost every key character (who wasn’t killed) from the first movie is back for Wakanda Forever, including Letitia Wright’s Shuri, Angela Bassett’s Ramonda, Winston Duke’s M’Baku, Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, and Danai Gurira’s Okoye. But one key name is not among those back in this sequel, and the only reference to him is brief and easily missed.
That would be Daniel Kaluuya, who played W’Kabi. In Black Panther, W’Kabi was the leader of the Wakandan Border Tribe. He is a trusted friend and adviser to T’Challa, and the lover of Okoye, the head of the all-female military unit the Dora Milaje.
Although W’Kabi is initially close to T’Challa he grows disillusioned with his leadership after he fails to capture Ulysses Klaue, a mercenary who stole vibranium from Wakanda years earlier, killing many Wakandans — including W‘Kabi’s parents — in the process. When T’Challa tries to apprehend Klaue and returns to Wakanda empty handed, W’Kabi is furious. When Killmonger shows up with a dead Klaue, W’Kabi welcomes him into Wakanda with open arms. And when Killmonger defeats T’Challa for control of Wakanda, he supports Killmonger’s claim to the throne.
When T’Challa returns at the climax of the film, W’Kabi remains loyal to Killmonger and leads the charge of Border Tribe soldiers against the former (and future) king. When Okoye and the Dora Milaje wind up backing T’Challa, she and W’Kabi wind up on opposite sides of the battle — until W’Kabi decides he would rather surrender than kill his beloved.
That’s the last time we see W’Kabi in Black Panther. As Wakanda Forever begins, T’Challa has just died and his loved ones lead Wakanda in a massive funeral procession. W’Kabi is nowhere to be seen, and he never appears in the rest of the film — but he is briefly mentioned later, in the scene where Queen Ramonda confronts Okoye over her failure on an important assignment.
Ramonda chastizes Okoye for screwing up her mission and in her anger she observes that while her husband is dead (that would be King T‘Chaka, T’Challa’s father, who was killed by Zemo in Captain America: Civil War), Okoye’s husband remains alive in prison, where she can visit him. (This is the first we’ve heard that Okoye and W’Kabi are husband and wife; the previous film didn’t detail the specifics of their relationship.) So we never see W’Kabi in the film because he’s in a Wakandan jail the entire time — which does make a certain amount of sense. He backed Killmonger against T‘Challa, who then became king once again. By most measures, those are treasonous acts.
That’s a reasonable explanation for W’Kabi’s absence from the story but in truth, there were off-screen reasons behind Kaluuya’s departure. He was busy shooting Jordan Peele’s Nope (a lead role, versus being a relatively minor supporting player) while Wakanda Forever was in production. He couldn’t do both, and thus does not appear in the Black Panther sequel. (One also wonders whether Kaluuya winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in between the two films had anything to do with his leaving.)
But Wakanda Forever does make it clear that W’Kabi is not dead. He’s out there somewhere in a Wakandan jail, just waiting for a sequel that doesn’t conflict with his actor’s busy shooting schedule. Maybe he’ll be back for Black Panther 3, or the rumored Wakanda Disney+ series.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now.
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