In Ryan Coogler's Black Panther, Forest Whitaker plays Zuri -- a close friend and confidant of the deceased King T'Chaka -- but if you watch his performance, something may catch your eye. Despite the fact that shortly before the start of the movie he lost one of his best friends, Zuri doesn't exactly mourn or grieve in typical fashion, which may strike some audience members as strange. The truth, however, is that there is a very good reason why we see the man shed a tear for T'Chaka, and it's all tied into the character's faith. To hear Whitaker explain it:
I think Zuri's understanding of life and death is quite different. I think that the movie does deal with grieving, because it deals with the grief of T'Challa and his father, the grief that happens from the abandonment of Killmonger. But my character, who is dealing constantly on the ancestral plane as well, dealing with a spiritual understanding, doesn't grieve because he understands the movement of our consciousness and our spirits as it continues in a continuum of the universe.
I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Forest Whitaker a couple weeks ago during the Los Angeles press junket for Black Panther, and in addition to discussing his thoughts on Wakanda border policy and who he'd like to see join the cast in a future installment, I also asked the Academy Award-winner about Zuri's grief. I was curious how he approached Zuri's emotional state when it came to mourning T'Chaka, and he fully explained why it's reasonable that we never see the character shed a tear.
In Wakanda, Zuri is the man in charge of the application of the Heart-Shaped Herb, which many Marvel fans are familiar with as the flower that gives Black Panther his incredible strength, speed and agility. One of its incredibly important other uses, however, is to allow a newly-coroneted ruler to access the ancestral plane and reconnect with past generations. T'Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, uses it and has the chance to reconnect with his father, T'Chaka, and it seems that knowledge of this link is what allows Zuri to know that T'Chaka isn't gone, but instead just on another level of existence.
But is the astral plane the afterlife? I took the opportunity to ask Forest Whitaker how he felt about this part of the Black Panther canon, and he explained it this way:
What they're viewing is their connection to their ancestors that could manifest itself in different terrains and different things. In a way there is no "afterlife" in the perspective of Zuri. Those are all continual things that are continuing to occur, and occurring as we are.
You can watch Forest Whitaker discuss Zuri's grief for the loss of T'Chaka and his views on the astral plane by clicking play on the video below!
Marvel fans will have the opportunity to dive deep into this beautiful and complex mythology this weekend, as Black Panther is arriving in theaters everywhere on Friday. Be sure to book your tickets -- there's going to be a hell of a lot of sold out shows -- and stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interviews with the cast and filmmakers behind the film!