Ryan Coogler, co-writer, director and keymaster of Marvel’s Black Panther Mythology, was faced with the unfathomable task of moving on with a sequel following the unexpected death of its eponymous hero, Chadwick Boseman, in 2020.
In fact, the 36-year-old filmmaker wasn’t even sure he did want move forward without Boseman. His thoughts “ran the gamut,” Coogler told Yahoo Entertainment ahead of the release of the sequel, which he eventually made. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
“Because the first thing you face is shock. Then, coming out of the shock, I didn’t want to feel how I felt, if that makes sense. So I thought a lot of irrational thoughts. But luckily I had the “time to let those thoughts pass and think and think about what was right and what he wanted. There was no way I could call him and ask. But luckily, through his actions, he let us know what.” he wanted to tell us. And it was me.” I tried to listen and interpret that and called to move on,” he said.
Marvel producer Nate Moore confirmed that following Boseman’s death from colon cancer at age 43, a battle the actor kept top secret, there was a real possibility the studio would shelve its planned sequel.
There were “talks of, ‘Does it even make sense to do another movie? Maybe it’s a one-and-done.’ But I think, and I know from talking to others, that he wouldn’t have wanted that because he understood, almost more than any of us, what Wakanda meant to the people,” Moore said. “And I think we did before we understood what it could mean for people when we did the first film. So it was like, ‘Well, what’s the story that we as storytellers believe in and can relate to?’”
Written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole who is deeply emotional Wakanda forever is steeped in art that tragically imitates life. The film begins with brilliant scientist Shuri (Letitia Wright) desperately trying to harness the heart-shaped herb to save her brother’s life. Off-screen, however, King T’Challa (Boseman) dies of an unknown disease, leaving Wakanda – and the world – in grief.
Even as a conventional Marvel adventure plot about the threat posed by a powerful underwater kingdom called Talocan soon emerges, the characters continue to mourn—as do the actors who played them on the film’s Atlanta set.
“It was tough because during pre-production you’re trying to understand your emotions,” says Wright. “You say, ‘How can I classify my feelings?’ And I feel like the way Ryan created this script with delicacy and allowed us to follow this journey of those raw emotions allowed us to place those real emotions in real life.
“It was tough, man. Sometimes you think, ‘Can we just go and wake up? This must be a dream. And you just feel that gentle hand pushing you forward. And it’s brother [Boseman] like, ‘You could do that. One day at a time you can do that.’ And I think it’s just us putting our hearts into this film for him. How we take care of him, how we miss him. We’re just pouring everything into this film.”
The experience of making Wakanda foreverwhich is a heartfelt tribute to the late actor, then became cathartic because of its tight cast.
“It was the only way, man,” says Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Nakia, T’Challa’s confidant and love interest. “When Ryan walked me through the new story after Chadwick died, I was so relieved I cried with relief that we didn’t have to pretend he didn’t die. History has accepted this loss very much and used our grief. So we could still go through the stages of grief in our lives and use them for this art form. And so it felt like art was imitating life in the most therapeutic way.
“It was also scary because you want to make sure [it’s a tribute]says Danai Gurira, who returns as Dora Milaje leader Okoye. “And you want to make sure you give it your all in that regard, like you honor him with everything you do and the ways you make the story work.” There was a shift, a disorientation, without him entering this process. And you could feel that.”
Nyong’o adds, “The thing that scared me the most when I returned to Wakanda was the way I was healing. The way I moved forward was by going to Wakanda. So what I feared was exactly what I needed.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens Friday.
Watch Winston Duke discuss the loss of Chadwick Boseman at San Diego Comic-Con: