The debut of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has swiftly become a pivotal moment for Marvel Studios. It’s no secret that movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe tend to differ from their original counterparts in the comic series. After the late Chadwick Boseman tragically passed from colon cancer in 2020, fans and viewers alike pondered what the fate of the Black Panther films would look like and whether someone else might take up the mantle of Black Panther in the sequel. With this shift in the MCU comes the introduction of Talokan, the underwater city of the main villain, Namor. But, what is the story behind this newly introduced city, and what cultures could have inspired its development?
Namor, played by Tenoch Huerta, is a villainous character prevalent in the Marvel Comics, but the city of Talokan actually isn’t. In the comics, Namor actually is considered the ruler of Atlantis — you know, the mythical underwater city that has been referenced countless times throughout history in different movies, television shows, and books. With this shift of Atlantis into the city of Talokan, there’s some evident differences between the two cities, but Namor still rules both of them no matter what reiteration of Marvel you’re consuming.
Talokan was originally inspired by Aztec mythology.
Though the city might not be sourced directly from the MCU, Talokan’s early origins derive from ancient Aztec mythology. Specifically, Talokan is inspired by the mythical city of Tlālōcān, which is described as a paradise for those who have passed due to a water or storm-related tragedy.
In Wakanda Forever, Talokan is strongly influenced by Mesoamerican cultures.
In Wakanda Forever, we’re able to see a contrast between the Atlantis-inspired city in the comics versus the movie. While Talokan has previously been regarded as an Aztec civilization, we see the city with many different cultural references in the film iteration, in particular from Mesoamerican cultures. It’s important to keep in mind that the underwater township is based around Atlantis, something that many have previously associated with Greek mythology.
However, an 1882 book entitled Atlantis: The Antediluvian World written by Ignatius L. Donnelly argued that the city was actually a real civilization, the knowledge from which was passed on to the Mayan and Egyptians. Though many have argued against this, Wakanda Forever’s director, Ryan Coogler, spoke about the city’s breach from a conventional Atlantis-themed city.
Coogler told Inverse, “There have been a lot of representations and creative depictions of Atlantis based off of Plato’s Atlantis, the Greco-Roman concept of a city sunk into the sea. That idea exists in a lot of different ways, […] We wanted our film to exist alongside those movies and be different. It was really out of respect to the audience, not wanting to give them something similar to other things that have come before it.”
Characters speak a Mayan language throughout the movie.
When watching the movie, it’s clear that the filmmakers pulled from Mesoamerican influences to create the fictional city of Talokan. In particular, the Maya culture is showcased in more ways than one. Throughout the film, the cast can be seen speaking the Yucatec Maya language, which Huerta learned to speak for the movie.
Yucatec Maya is one of the 69 languages associated within the Mayan language family. Modernly, the language is spoken primarily in the Eastern region of Mexico, particularly in the region of Yucatán. The Yucactec people have been historically known for their involvement in the Maya civilization. Namor’s cousin Namora is portrayed by Mabel Cadena, a Mexican actress. She spoke about the incorporation of Mayan language as spoken by the Talokan people, telling Gizmodo, “To me, it’s crazy because I can find in the movie the little things from my Mexican culture. And if you hear the Mayan language it’s like, ‘Oh my God, can you believe we have representation for the first time in a movie like this?’”
Many elements of the film connect to Maya culture.
Other characteristics of the Maya culture stem from the wardrobe of the character Namor. Wakanda Forever’s costume designer Ruth E. Carter spoke about the indigenous references that they pulled from to put everything together. She told Men’s Health, “We’re imagining a community that’s anchored to its own Indigenous past. […] We were inspired by all of the pageantry that you see in Mesoamerican history. There are these vases that they painted to depict figures in headdresses and all kinds of clothing that I used to inspire the clothing of the Talocan.”
She continued to explain that their team worked hand in hand with Mayan historians “to learn about what part of the trajectory of the ancient Mesoamerica area we would draw from.”
Though Talokan may be a fabled city in Wakanda Forever, the city pulls reference from varying cultures and heritages that has not gone unnoticed.