This article contains some Black Panther: Wakanda Forever spoilers.
Marvel’s Black Panther was an unprecedented cultural moment in ways that are still being felt today. More than just prove the world was ready (desperate even) for a Black superhero film, Black Panther also provided towering evidence that we were eager for a mainstream Hollywood movie steeped in African civilization and futurism, made by a nearly all-Black cast and crew. It earned a record-shattering $1.3 billion at the box office while on its way to an astounding seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture (the first ever for a superhero movie). It turned lead actor Chadwick Boseman into a superstar, while making his character T’Challa and the world of Wakanda into cornerstones of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And then Boseman died unexpectedly (his illness was a closely kept secret) in August 2020, not long after director/writer Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole had completed their initial draft of Black Panther 2. After a period of mourning for Coogler, the entire cast, and the Marvel Studios organization, the question had to be faced: What do we do now?
“The loss of Chadwick was a shock to all of us,” producer Nate Moore tells Den of Geek. “And figuring out a path forward took some thought.”
Although it became apparent relatively quickly that a sequel to Black Panther would move forward, the decision was made fairly early in the process that the role of T’Challa would not be recast, even despite the fact that it would remove an important Marvel character from the board.
“[Boseman] was such an integral part of that character for us, both as the character and as a person, that we could not conceive of a version with having someone else on set,” continues Moore. “I couldn’t imagine saying, ‘Okay, everyone, this is our new T’Challa,’ and feeling good about it.”
Moore adds that his feelings on the matter seemed to pervade the rest of the cast and crew as well. “I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that people make movies, and that it’s not just machines,” he says. “I would say up and down from the cast to even the crew again, a lot of whom returned from the first movie, that it felt like we just couldn’t get there.”
What happened then was that Coogler, Cole, Moore, Marvel CCO Kevin Feige and their creative team went back to the drawing board, with Coogler and Cole coming up with a new script—now known as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever—that would incorporate Boseman’s devastating passing into the narrative.
How the Loss of Chadwick Boseman Is Addressed
In the film as it stands, the nation of Wakanda is sent reeling by the sudden death of their king. The death happens off-screen during the movie’s prologue, but we are later told that he was ill for some time, confiding in that secret to the likes of Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) but not his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). In fact, the film begins with Shuri scrambling to her lab to create a quick cure by way of a synthetic Heart-Shaped Herb (the real ones were destroyed in the last movie by Michael B. Jordan’s Kilmonger). It is not to be. Shuri and T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), comes into the lab to inform Shuri that her brother is gone. Cut to a near silent “Marvel Studios” opening logo in which we only hear the sound of rustling wind and see a composite of numerous shots of Boseman from previous MCU films.
After the subsequent funeral in which the mourners gather in white, it is left to Queen Ramonda and her Shuri to hold the country together even as they process their own grief. At the same time, a new threat emerges in the form of the undersea kingdom of Talokan and its vengeful leader Namor (Tenoch Huerta). He like the rest of the world sees Wakanda as vulnerable now that their king is dead.
How the Story Changed Without T’Challa
Coogler tells us that certain aspects of the original Black Panther 2 screenplay remain in the finished film, although much of it was also reconfigured. “Namor and the Talokanil were in it,” says the filmmaker. “Some major beats were similar, and some thematic threads as well, but it’s a very different movie.”
The director adds that “we made the movie that we could make,” but offers a poignant further comment on that original story: “I would have loved to have made that one,” he says wistfully. “Because I mean, our bro would be next to me promoting it. But that’s not how life went.”
Coogler is also quick to say, however, that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a tribute not just to Boseman but to the resiliency and determination of the rest of the cast to honor his memory. “We had to pivot and make something,” he explains. “And I felt like this [cast] that Chadwick cared about so much, that I cared about so much, that’s very special and gifted, was kind of anointed in a way. I’m glad we made the film that we could make.”
The loss of Boseman and T’Challa did mean that the film would focus more heavily on the remaining characters—not just Ramonda and Shuri, but Dora Milaje leader Okoye (Danai Gurira), Wakandan spy Nakia, and new character Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a brilliant MIT student whose scientific endeavors inadvertently set the film’s main conflict in motion.
“Once we decided to move forward with the story we were telling, you just realized all those secondary characters became primary characters, and they’re all fantastic and different female characters,” says Moore. “Plus [there was] the addition of Riri Williams, who we all loved and were excited to bring in… It was just like, ‘These are the characters that we have, and we have stories to tell with Okoye and Nakia and Ramonda and Shuri.” He adds, “It just felt organic more than anything. And they delivered.”
Making the film, which was shot over the second half of 2021 and early 2022, was an experience that allowed the cast and crew to grieve for Boseman while hopefully providing audiences with a way to celebrate the late actor and also return to the immersive, fully-realized world of the first movie.
“I think out of that came a movie that wants to deal with ideas of grief and loss that both we felt and that I think audiences felt with [Boseman’s] passing,” explains the producer. “That felt like a story we could tell. That felt like a reason to go back to Wakanda and still deliver an entertaining film that’s really fun and exciting, but also is dealing with the loss that we were all feeling.”
For Coogler, whose production company is developing several Wakanda-based TV shows for Disney+ and who would clearly top Marvel’s list to direct a third Black Panther film, one word sums up how he feels now that Wakanda Forever is complete.
“Gratitude,” he says. “Gratitude that life lined up for me to be able to have the opportunity to make the first one, and now to make the second one. It’s such a gift of a story. It started with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and then had so many great writers and their runs that the movie stands on the shoulders of.”
He continues, “I’m fortunate that Kevin Feige and his collaborators allowed us to carve out our own lane with this depiction. I’m fortunate to have gotten to know Chad and worked with him on this thing that was really important to him and me. Obviously gutted by the loss of him, but man, what an opportunity to make something that could amplify his work and to make something that he would be proud of. So I feel grateful that I got the opportunity to do this because it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now.