Why Marvel didn’t change Chadwick Boseman in ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ | Popgen Tech
A still from the movie “Black Panther.”
In August 2020, at Disney Marvel Studios is faced with an unenviable task — how to deal with the sudden and tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, the star of its megahit movie “Black Panther.”
At the time of Boseman’s death from colon cancer, director Ryan Coogler had completed a draft script for the sequel, which centered on the late actor’s character. The 2018 Marvel film was among the first blockbusters to feature a primarily Black cast, and it’s proof that racial representation in Hollywood can mean big bucks at the box office.
With the sequel to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” slated for release in mid-2022, Marvel executives and Coogler need to quickly decide what to do with the character of T’Challa, played by Boseman and turned Black Panther superhero after the death of his father. The film centers on what it means to be Black, in America and Africa, and grapples with issues that affect modern-day life for the Black community.
Since Black Panther is a major character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the studio could recast the character and continue production.
But Marvel President Kevin Feige felt this wasn’t the right approach.
“It felt like it was too early to recast,” Feige said in an interview with Empire. “Stan Lee has always said that Marvel represents the world outside your window. And we’ve talked about how, as wonderful and amazing as our characters and stories are, there’s a relatable and human element to everything what we’re doing. The world is still processing the loss of Chad. And Ryan poured that into the story.”
The result was a highly anticipated sequel that critics and audiences alike agreed honored Boseman’s legacy and pushed the MCU and its characters forward. The film generated $181 million in its domestic debut, earning it the record for the biggest November opener and the second-highest opener of 2022.
In the sequel, Black Panther did not disappear from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, the name becomes a mantle.
Coogler’s film opens with T’Challa dying from an unspecified illness. His passing had a huge impact on his community and the supporting characters from “Black Panther.” His sister Shuri, filled with guilt that she couldn’t use science to heal him, buried herself in work. His mother, once again the Queen of Wakanda, tries to rule while honoring her son and ancestors.
T’Challa’s love interest, the war dog Nakia, has fled Wakanda and lives in Haiti, working as a director of a local school.
Letitia Wright stars as Shuri in Marvel Studio’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Throughout the film, Shuri struggles with her faith in the spiritual elements of Wakanda. He eventually earned the title of Black Panther after recreating the once-defunct heart-shaped herb that gave the superhero powers.
The characters in the film see him as a symbol — a promise for the future of Wakanda — and, ultimately, band together to fight the antagonists Namor and the Talokan.
While promoting “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Coogler said the first script centered on T’Challa’s grief for losing time after returning from the dust of another character, Thanos.
The decision by Marvel executives not to recast Boseman’s character was unusual.
Director Christopher Nolan did not replace the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in his Dark Knight trilogy, after the actor suffered cardiac arrest caused by prescription drug intoxication. After the actor Paul Walker died in a car crash, his character was not restored Universal’s Fast & Furious franchise. The death of Carrie Fisher, who suffered a cardiac arrest on a plane, was woven into Disney’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
“There is no blueprint for replacing any actor when tragedy strikes,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “It always depends on the film and the situation, but we know that high-profile and beloved actors are often irreplaceable within the context of a franchise.”
Robbins said replacing Boseman never seemed like a realistic option for Marvel — or for fans.
“His portrayal of T’Challa was instantly iconic and made indelible by what he and that character meant to generations of Black families and the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon,” Robbins said.
A subset of the Marvel fan base felt that T’Challa should have been recast, allowing the character to live on. According to a survey by Morning Consult, 30% of 2,200 US adults surveyed felt the paper should be reformed. Another 33% said it should not be 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.
“Losing your centerpiece, everything changed,” said Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Nakia, in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter last month. “When 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 relaxing [T’Challa] and allowing real life to inform the movies’ story.”
Boseman rose to Hollywood fame in 2013 after playing Jackie Robinson Warner Bros.’ “42” and was catapulted into the spotlight after debuting as T’Challa, aka the Black Panther, in “Captain America: Civil War” in 2016.
His performance in “Black Panther” was considered a milestone for Black representation in the entertainment industry, and he starred in two other MCU films — “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” — before his passing in August 2020.
“The potency of Boseman’s aura, as a fictional king and as a real person, made recasting a silly option,” said Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University and a pop culture expert. “Boseman’s passing forced the Marvel Universe to conform to the rules of the actual universe, something it’s not used to doing.”
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is the distributor of the Fast & Furious franchise.