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Chadwick Boseman’s role in shaping Black Panther was even bigger than we knew

And it’s why director Ryan Coogler couldn’t recast his role for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the Black Panther in a trailer for Black Panther. Image: Marvel Studios

With Black Panther: Wakanda Forever coming to theaters on Nov. 11, Marvel Entertainment has released the first in a series of behind-the-scenes deep dives about the making of the movie. The first episode of Wakanda Forever: The Official Black Panther Podcast, hosted by essayist and veteran Black Panther comics writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, starts with an emotional wallop: a personal recollection about what the first Black Panther film meant to Coates, and an initial conversation with director Ryan Coogler, who was deep in editing on Wakanda Forever when this episode was recorded.

Coogler will return in future episodes, which are scheduled to start rolling out in January: This one is mainly about the painful process of figuring out a Black Panther sequel without its intended star, Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer in 2020 at age 43.

The emotional difficulties of making the film without Boseman have been discussed extensively in the lead-up to Wakanda Forever, but the podcast goes further, with a particularly raw explanation from Coogler. He audibly tears up during his talk with Coates, who was also friends with Boseman, from their days at Howard University. Coogler explains that a director’s main job, as he sees it, is to convince other people to believe in their ideas and their truth — and in those terms, Boseman was even more of a steward for this character, and this world, than it initially appeared.

Specifically, he talks about Boseman originating the T’Challa character in Captain America: Civil War, almost two years before Black Panther’s release, and how that involved “difficult conversations” with the Marvel brass about how Civil War would shape T’Challa’s homeland, Wakanda. Coogler doesn’t get into the specific pushback Boseman received from Marvel, but he credits the actor’s vision as a major reason the character came to life — both on a creative level, as the movie was planned, and on a practical level, as the two men worked together and Coogler worried about the pressure to make the film great.

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) Photo: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

In Coogler’s telling, this is ultimately why recasting T’Challa wasn’t considered a viable option, even though he had already written a script with a tight focus on the character, and completed it just weeks before Boseman’s death. The director had to be able to sell his truth to his coworkers, and the truth they were dealing with, though sad, was unavoidable: “Heroes, great men… die.” Essentially, Boseman felt the journey of Black Panther and Wakanda as a whole was his job, so Coogler felt a responsibility to continue it for him.

It’s a compelling conversation, in large part because Coogler can be heard renegotiating the roles of actors and directors as he makes his way through the process of re-envisioning Wakanda Forever as both a tribute, and a path forward. He seems to consider Black Panther Boseman’s movie as much as his — and maybe, even without Boseman, that’s true of the sequel, too.

The first episode of Wakanda Forever: The Official Black Panther Podcast is available on Spotify and other podcast platforms. According to Marvel, “Subsequent episodes will be available weekly in January 2023, celebrating the five-year anniversary of the first Black Panther film.”

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