In 2018, Black Panther took the world by storm, inspiring fans across the globe while bringing previously unrepresented people and themes front and center as part of the Marvel universe. The film kicked open the previously locked doors, instantly expanding diversity in the superhero world – a move that provided new heroes for fans who had previously felt excluded. The film’s massive success on many levels made it a foregone conclusion that the story of Wakanda and its heroes needed to continue.
But, after the sudden and tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman, everything quickly changed. A celebration turned to mourning and the future of this now beloved part of the Marvel universe was in question. Where do you go from there? How do you go on without the heart of the series? Fans, cast, and producers all seemed torn about how they should proceed. During a recent press conference they discussed the thought and care put into the decisions needed to be made around the new sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever to the screen; continuing the story of Wakanda while honoring Boseman.
Director Ryan Coogler had spent almost a year working on the next film, a version of the movie that had included T’Challa in it, before his learning of Boseman’s passing. Producer and Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige discussed Coogler’s commitment and how he continued through the loss.
“Ryan pours everything and all of himself into everything he does,” explained Feige. “And was finding and pouring his life experience from making the first movie into that. And then when we lost Chad, all of that, obviously, was then poured into this movie, as well. And keeping the idea of a celebration of Wakanda and the character at the forefront, in addition to the grief that, of course, is gonna come with that.”
The ability to move forward came from those around Coogler, the cast and crew of Black Panther. “It’s things that people go through, this feeling of grief and loss. But it’s also great when you don’t have to do it alone. So, we were able to build that sense of community and we were able to welcome new members. It was awesome. I really feel grateful.”
The question everyone had was how do they tell a story that felt like a natural extension of the original while being respectful of the loss they all suffered both on and off-screen. “It is all of the emotions anyone feels with any profound loss. But we had such a collection of talent and such a collection of characters, who all have a different point of view with that loss, that I think Ryan found ways to express all the different colors of grief through the ensemble,” said producer, Nate Moore.
“I think Ryan was savvy enough as a filmmaker and storyteller to weave all those themes across the entirety of the film. Which is why, hopefully, the film will be powerful for people.”
With the absence of T’Challa forever leaving a huge hole in Wakanda, other characters had to step up. The obvious choice was T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). Wright explained the initial steps of moving on with her character’s journey. “It was, firstly, through connecting with Ryan – that heart-to-heart conversation of how do we take a step forward. Gentle step forward, ’cause it’s so raw, when we spoke. And it was just Ryan talking me through how the different characters, how the world was going to expand a bit. What does that look like, when your heart is broken?”
“I think it was just Ryan’s guidance on how we create a full arc of this human being, of this young woman going to through something alongside her fellow family members, in general, and Wakandans,” said Wright. “I think the way it was written and the delicacy, the gentleness of how we approached it. We always spoke, we always communicated, at every step of the way. And we were able to bring something that felt real, that felt truthful. And I was able to really give my heart to it and give Shuri a full arc.”
The stages of grief are evident throughout the film, including in Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Nakia. “In the first film, Ryan described her as T’Challa’s oasis. And that really, really resonated with me,” explained Nyong’o. “And so when I was reading this script and thinking about where she is, I realized that what she was once to T’Challa, she now has the opportunity to offer Shuri. It made a lot of sense in terms of the structure and architecture of the story.”
“When we’re talking about exploration of grief, it’s really grounding to have someone who is, I want to say, befriending of the change for the people in the story, but also for an audience. And the fact that she was T’Challa’s love, in a way I guess it allows an audience to know that it’s okay. It’s okay.”
As audiences have already started to learn this film is unlike any before it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film takes a very human approach to exploring loss and grief. Coogler discussed how he approached the subject that affects us all yet is difficult to handle correctly. “What we wanted to look at was when you lose somebody, there’s a blast radius. You know, that’s like a bomb that goes off. And who was the closest to it. And that’s who we explored.”
Coogler continues, “The main characters, their identities were kinda wrapped up in this man, you know, like, is the truth of it. Shuri, every day she was alive, she had her brother. So when she lost him, you know, what we discovered while we were working on the script, and then eventually bringing it to life with the actors, was that she really lost her sense of self. She identified herself as this guy’s little sister and as his protector and as the person who looks out for him.”
“The tricky thing is that death comes for everybody, is the truth of it. The worst nightmare that you can have is if something were to happen to you, the people who you love and leave behind would be unmoored, would be lost after you were gone. So we were exploring all of those things” finished Coogler.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now. Check out Awards Radar’s review here.