How Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Handled Sequel Expectations Without T’Challa

After the death of star Chadwick Boseman, the cast of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had to rethink their approach to superhero sequels.

Shuri in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Photo: Marvel

“It was a unique experience to step back into this world without our leader.” That’s how Lupita Nyong’o describes reprising her character Nakia for the sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Everyone feels pressure when following up a hit movie, especially one that so defined culture like the original Black Panther. But director Ryan Coogler and his cast faced a unique challenge with the untimely and shocking death of star Chadwick Boseman. Not only did the death rob us of one of our most exciting actors, but it also left a giant hole for the other performers to fill. How can you make a Black Panther sequel without Black Panther?

Speaking to the New York Times, Nyong’o explained that the answer came from rethinking the nature of sequels. “When you have a sophomore film, there’s a lot of expectation,” the actor admitted. “But I think the loss of Chadwick kind of took all that away. I found myself having to radically accept that this was going to be different, and that showing up with as much openness as possible was key.”

The trailer for Wakanda Forever gives us a hint of what that difference may be. To be sure, the teaser includes some of what one expects from the follow-up to a hit Marvel movie, including battle sequences and the reveal of a new antagonist, in the form Tenoch Huerta’s sea-faring monarch Namor the Sub-mariner. But it diverted from most superhero trailers with a rich, mournful tone. While the trailer highlighted the many characters from the first film who still remain, including Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda and Danai Gurira‘s warrior Okoye, it also acknowledged the real grief of Boseman’s passing and T’Challa’s absence.

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For the cast, this emotional element stems directly from their interactions on and off the set. “[T]he preparation process coming back into this was definitely a spiritual one,” confessed Letitia Wright, who returns as Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and likely successor as Black Panther. But she and the other performers found solace in each other. “The beautiful thing I found was that I wasn’t alone,” Wright elaborated. “Coming back to the world of Wakanda, I felt like I had family that understood.”

We know that the familial aspect will certainly be an important part of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and not just because it is highlighted in the trailer. Among the many achievements in the original film was its ability to build a new world and populate it with well-rounded and interesting characters. The movie may have been about T’Challa reckoning with Wakanda’s misdeeds as he becomes the new king, but that journey came through the influence of Nakia, Okoye, and even antagonists M’Baku (Winston Duke) and Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

Where so many superheroes demonstrate their strength by standing alone against opposing forces, Black Panther’s strength came from his ability to learn from others, to listen to the rich community that surrounded him. That community made Black Panther a very different type of superhero movie, and now it allows Wakanda Forever to be a very different type of sequel.