‘Wakanda Forever will honour Chadwick Boseman’s legacy but also move forward’

The team of the Black Panther sequel on how it dealt with Chadwick Boseman’s death, returned to Wakanda, and put up a show
Danai Gurira , Letitia Wright
Danai Gurira , Letitia Wright

Marvel producer Nate Moore looks back at the passing of Chadwick Boseman as a “tragic loss for me, both professionally and personally”. Chadwick, globally-acclaimed star of films like 42 and Get on Up, as well as King T’Challa in the MCU, died of colon cancer two years ago. His untimely demise put a spanner in the works of a Black Panther sequel. Nate, for instance, knew for certain they couldn’t recast T’Challa. He also knew that a film that does not emotionally acknowledge and honour Chadwick’s legacy would gravely shortchange millions of grieving fans.

“Figuring out how to make a film that both honours him but also moves forward and shows people that there’s possibility beyond the tragedy was something we never had to face as a company,” Nate says in an interview with Cinema Express. The first step – as with dealing with any tragedy – was putting the old team together. Director Ryan Coogler returned, as did Letitia Wright (Shuri), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Winston Duke (M’Baku), Martin Freeman and others. They were going back to Wakanda, a bereft, vulnerable, T’Challa-less Wakanda, beset by hostilities and an advancing subaqueous enemy in the form of Namor (Tenoch Heurta).

“We were all processing this feeling of grief and loss,” adds Ryan, seated among his cast members in LA. We meet them over Zoom, and the show of strength—steered, in case it needs pointing out, by the women of Wakanda, one of the largest female-led superhero ensembles ever—is awe-inspiring. “It’s great when you don’t have to do it alone, you know? We were able to build that sense of community and also welcome new members, like Namor and his underwater kingdom of the Talokanil.”

Warrior women
Talking of new members, Michaela Coel is in the cast. The actor and creator of the universally celebrated British shows Chewing Gum and I May Destroy You appears in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as Aneka, a brand-new character described in the comic books as a combat instructor for the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s elite all-female special force. Aneka and Ayo (played by Florence Kasumba) share a romantic track in the film.

“Michaela Coel was an unexpected addition because we felt there’s no way she would want to be in this movie,” laughs Nate. “But she loved the world of Wakanda and her spirit is just infectious. So we found a way to integrate her into the film.”

Danai Gurira, who plays Okoye, fierce warrior and general of the Dora Milaje, talks enthusiastically about Wakanda’s action design. After four movies—Okoye also appeared in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame—the American-Zimbabwean actor has gotten scarily efficient with her battle spear. She tells Cinema Express, “I’m still some way from mastering it but there are aspects to it that do come more naturally now. I love the weapon. It links our characters to their African heritage and their foremothers. I learned new things about it on Wakanda Forever. And yeah, it does help slice away spider webs at home!”

The Panther-in-waiting
Letitia Wright’s role as T’Challa’s tech-savvy sister was expanded to bolster the sequel. As princess Shuri, she is everyone’s guess as the next Black Panther, donning a new suit and clawing down as the protector of Wakanda. But not before she’s had a chance to work through the anger and grief of her brother’s death. “When we meet Shuri in the first film, she is this ray of sunshine,” Letitia says. “She’s so clothed and protected in royalty and love. Her family encouraged her to be a genius and be wonderfully made. So, we follow from that. What does that look like, when your heart is broken?”

Nate, catching the maudlin drift of these interviews, assures the new film is not all doom and gloom. We can tell — not least from the soundtrack (Rihanna, Stormzy, DBN Gogo), snatches of score (Oscar-winner Ludwig Göransson) and those epically cool shots of Ironheart (Dominique Throne).
“What these Wakandans are experiencing is not just grief,” Nate says. “It’s also sometimes joy, sometimes humour. It’s all those complex emotions that emerge in the wake of a profound loss.”

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