A still from the movie ‘Black Panther’.
August 2020, Disneys Marvel Studios was faced with an unenviable task: how to deal with the sudden and tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, the star of the mega hit movie “Black Panther.”
At the time of Boseman’s death from colon cancer, director Ryan Coogler had already completed a draft script for the sequel, centering on the late actor’s character. The 2018 Marvel movie was one of the first blockbusters to feature a predominantly black cast, and it was proof that racial representation in Hollywood could make big bucks at the box office.
With the sequel to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” slated for a mid-2022 release, Marvel executives and Coogler had to quickly decide what to do with the character of T’Challa, who was played by Boseman and becomes the Black Panther superhero after the death of his father. The film deals with what it means to be black, both in America and Africa, and grapples with issues that affect the modern life of the black community.
Since the Black Panther is a key figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the studio could have recast the character and proceeded with production.
But Marvel president Kevin Feige felt this was not the right strategy.
“It just felt like it was way too early to recast,” Feige said in an interview with Empire. “Stan Lee always said that Marvel represents the world outside your window. And we had talked about how extraordinary and fantastic our characters and stories are, there is a relatable and human element to everything we do. The world is still processing the loss always. of Chad. And Ryan poured that into the story.”
The result is a much-anticipated sequel that critics and audiences alike have said honored Boseman’s legacy and pushed the MCU and its characters forward. The film grossed $181 million in its domestic debut, setting the record for the biggest opener in the month of November and the second highest opener of 2022.
In the sequel, the Black Panther has not disappeared from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, the name becomes cloak.
Coogler’s film begins with T’Challa’s death from an unspecified illness. His passing has major implications for his community and the supporting characters of ‘Black Panther’. His sister Shuri, guilt-ridden that she couldn’t use science to cure him, buries herself in her work. His mother, who has once again become Queen of Wakanda, tries to lead while honoring her son and ancestors.
T’Challa’s love interest, the war dog Nakia, has fled Wakanda and lives in Haiti, where he works as the principal of a local school.
Letitia Wright stars as Shuri in Marvel Studio’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Throughout the film, Shuri struggles with her belief in the spiritual elements of Wakanda. She is eventually able to assume the title of Black Panther after recreating the once-extinct heart-shaped herb that bestows the superhero’s power.
The characters in the film see her as a symbol – a promise for the future of Wakanda – and eventually come together to face adversaries Namor and the Talokan.
While promoting “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, Coogler noted that the original script focused on T’Challa’s grief over the loss of time after returning from being turned to dust by another character, Thanos.
The decision by Marvel executives not to recast Boseman’s character isn’t unusual.
Director Christopher Nolan did not replace the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in his Dark Knight trilogy, after the actor went into cardiac arrest due to prescription intoxication. After actor Paul Walker died in a car accident, his character was not recast Universals Fast & Furious franchise. The death of Carrie Fisher, who went into cardiac arrest on an airplane, was woven into Disney’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
“There is no blueprint for replacing an actor when tragedy strikes,” said Shawn Robbins, principal analyst at BoxOffice.com. “It always depends on the movie and the situation, but we know that high profile and beloved actors are often irreplaceable within the context of the franchise.”
Robbins said replacing Boseman never seemed like a realistic option for Marvel — or for fans.
“His portrayal of T’Challa was made instantly iconic and indelible by what he and that character meant to generations of Black families and the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon,” Robbins said.
Part of the Marvel fan base felt that T’Challa should have been recast so the character could live on. According to a study by Morning Consult, 30% of the 2,200 adults surveyed in the US thought the role should have been recast. Another 33% said it should not have been recast, while 37% had no opinion.
The poll was conducted between October 31 and November 2, two years after Boseman’s death.
Perhaps more importantly, fellow “Black Panther” actors supported Marvel’s decision to include Boseman’s death in the sequel.
“When you lost your center, everything changed,” Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Nakia, said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter last month. “If you say the world revolved around him, it revolved around him, it did.”
“That’s not the death of the Black Panther, that’s the whole point,” Nyong’o added. “It’s resting [T’Challa] and allowing real life to inform the films narrative. “
Boseman rose to prominence in Hollywood in 2013 after playing the role of Jackie Robinson Warner Bros.” “42” and came to limelight after debuting in 2016 as T’Challa, aka the Black Panther, in “Captain America: Civil War”.
His performance in “Black Panther” was considered a milestone for Black’s representation in the entertainment industry, and he starred in two more MCU movies – “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” – before passing away in August 2020 .
“The power of Boseman’s aura, as a fictional king and as a real person, made recasting a ridiculous option,” said Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University and a pop culture expert. “Boseman’s passing forced the Marvel Universe to abide by the rules of the universe proper, something it’s not used to doing.”
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and UKTN. NBCUniversal is the distributor of the Fast & Furious franchise.