If Black Panther was about what it meant to have true power and bear responsibility for the interests of an entire nation, Wakanda Forever was going to explore how leaders respond to tragedy. Much like our pandemic the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s population was greatly affected by the “Blip,” a period of loss and uncertainty following Avengers: Infinity War. The big bad Thanos used a magical gauntlet to make half of the universe disappear for five years, until Endgame reverted his diabolical scheme back into the MCU we have today. T’Challa, played by the late Chadwick Boseman, was one of the heroes missing in that time period. According to director Ryan Coogler, his absence was going to make for a good chunk of the sequel.
“The tonal shift, I will say, was less of a shift than in [casting],” Coogler told Inverse about rewriting the story after Boseman’s died at age 48, after suffering from colon cancer. “The tone was going to be similar. The character was going to be grieving the loss of time, you know, coming back after being gone for five years. As a man with so much responsibility to so many, coming back after a forced five year’s absence, that’s what the film was tackling. He was grieving time he couldn’t get back. Grief was a big part of it.”
Many of these elements remained in the new story, but they had to be told from the perspective of those who were left behind, including Black Panther’s mother, Ramona (Angela Bassett), and his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). “Who the protagonist was, the flaws of the protagonist, what the protagonist was dealing with in their journey, all of that stuff had to be different due to us losing him and the decisions that we made about moving forward,” Coogler continued.
Tenoch Huerta’s Namor was always planned to be included as the antagonist, but the two kings could no longer face in the same way they did in the comics. Respecting Boseman’s legacy and impact on film, Disney and Marvel chose not to recast the role. Instead, Wakanda would grieve and more forward along with us—just as T’Challa himself was planned to do when his story focused on a different kind of absence. The decision was well-received by fans and critics alike. Even more, early reactions to the film have been very positive.
“I spent the last year preparing, imagining and writing words for him to say, that we weren’t destined to see,” Coogler wrote in an LA Times tribute to the late actor. “But it is with a heavy heart and a sense of deep gratitude to have ever been in his presence, that I have to reckon with the fact that Chad is an ancestor now. And I know that he will watch over us, until we meet again.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever premieres in theaters on November 11.
Josh Rosenberg is an entertainment writer living in Brooklyn, keeping a steady diet of one movie a day; his work can be found at Spin, Insider, Vibe, and on his personal blog at Roseandblog.com.
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