It’s hard to fathom what a daunting task it was for Ryan Coogler, co-writer, director and keymaster of Marvel’s Black panther mythology, to continue moving forward with a sequel following the unexpected death of its eponymous hero, Chadwick Boseman, in 2020.
In fact, the 36-year-old director wasn’t even sure if he did I will move forward without Boseman. His mind was running “the whole gamut,” Coogler told Yahoo Entertainment at the Los Angeles press conference for the sequel he eventually made, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
“Because the first thing you’re dealing with is shock. Then coming out of shock, I didn’t want to feel how I felt, if that makes sense. So I had a lot of irrational thoughts. But luckily I had time to let those thoughts go pass and reflect, and think about what was right and what he would have wanted. There’s no way I could call him and ask him. But luckily he communicated what he wanted to tell us through his actions. And I was trying to listen and to interpret it and appealed to continue,” he said.
Marvel producer Nate Moore has confirmed that following Boseman’s death from colon cancer aged 43, a battle the actor kept fiercely private, there was a real possibility the studio would abandon its planned sequel.
There were “discussions of ‘Does it make sense to do another movie?’ Maybe it’s one and done.’ But I think, and I know from talking to other people, that he wouldn’t want that. Because he, almost more than any of us, understood what Wakanda meant to people,” Moore said. “And I think even before us, we understood what it could mean to people when we made the first movie. So then it became, ‘So what’s the story that we as storytellers can believe in and pour ourselves into?'”
Co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, the deeply emotional Wakanda Forever he is steeped in art that tragically imitates life. The film opens with the brilliant scientist Suri (Letitia Wright) frantically trying to harness the Heart-Shaped Herb to save her brother’s life. Off-screen, however, King T’Challa (Boseman) dies of an unknown illness, leaving Wakanda – and the world – in mourning.
Even when a conventional Marvel adventure plot involving the threat of a powerful underwater kingdom called Talocan soon emerges, its characters continue to mourn — just as the actors who played them did on the film’s Atlanta set.
“It was hard because you’re trying to figure out your emotions as you go through pre-production,” says Wright. “You’re like, ‘How can I put what I’m feeling?’ And I feel like the way that Ryan, sensitively, created this script and allowed us to follow this journey of these raw emotions, allowed us to put these real emotions in real life.
“It’s been hard, man. Some days you’re like, ‘Can we just wake up?’ This must be a dream. And you just feel that gentle hand pushing you forward. And he is bro [Boseman] saying, “You could do that. One day at a time, you can do this.’ And I think we’re the only ones rooting for him in this movie. How we care for him, how much we miss him. We’re just throwing everything into this movie.”
The construction experience Wakanda Foreverwhich proves a profound tribute to the late actor, then became a cathartic for his bound actors.
“It was the only way, man,” says Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Nakia, T’Challa’s confidant and lover. “When Ryan described me in the new story once Chadwick had passed, I was so relieved I cried from sheer relief that we didn’t have to pretend he wasn’t dead. The story embraced this loss very much and used our grief. So we could still go through the stages of grief in our lives and use it for this art form. And so it was like art imitating life in the most healing 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 that you’re giving everything to that subject, like you’re honoring him with everything that you do and in every way that the story happens. There was a displacement, a disorientation going into this process without him. And you could feel that.”
Adds Nyong’o: “What I was most afraid of when I came back to Wakanda became the way I healed. The way I moved on it was going to Wakanda. So what I was afraid of was exactly what I needed.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens on Friday.
Watch Winston Duke talk about losing Chadwick Boseman at San Diego Comic-Con: