How ‘Wakanda Forever’ went from a normal sequel to honoring a fallen star

How do you move on after the star of your widely successful and hugely celebrated passes away before the production of a sequel can start? For Marvel and Ryan Coogler, the writer/director of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, that was the predicament over two years ago when Chadwick Boseman lost a battle with stage four pancreatic cancer at the age of 43.

Here’s the thing. Boseman, in an attempt most likely to resist mass empathy and attention-swaying, didn’t tell anyone at Marvel or Coogler that he was very sick and dying. The only people he told about the fight he was having with cancer were his agent and his wife. That’s it. After the success of “Black Panther,” a sequel was given the green light before the movie could be in theaters for a week. When it grabbed some awards group attention and scored a few nominations, the hype intensified.

The only problem was Boseman was in the latter stages of his fight, even filming other movies like “21 Bridges” even while losing lots of weight. While lesser humans were linking his weight loss to possible drug use, Boseman was working all the way up until the end on multiple projects. He was more than just a movie star; he was the star of Marvel’s first African American-led blockbuster and someone who spoke and stood as a role model to millions. Take that away and the dominos fall in more than one way.

Marvel suddenly had a movie without a lead, and a burgeoning story without a future–at least until the cast and crew came together and made something that serves as a continuation of the first film and an honoring of their fallen king. Along with figuring out how Boseman’s T’Challa could reach his demise, especially given his healing powers that were well established in “Black Panther” and the various follow-up films that he appeared in. Think about that gambit they had to pull off, and the stakes that came with it.

But then the first trailer for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” was released earlier this year, with a nice cover of Bob Marley’s “No woman, No cry” playing throughout. The pivot, and a wise one at that, is moving the sequel from being a continuation of T’Challa’s journey to being a female-powered show, with the younger sister of the king, Letitia Wright’s Shuri, possibly moving into the seat with the crown.

More than that, the marketing behind the film gave prominent screen time and billing to Angela Bassett’s Ramonda, the mother of T’Challa who says in the first trailer, “I am the Queen of the most powerful nation in the world, and my entire family is gone.”

We can’t forget about Danai Gurira’s or Lupita Nyong’o, who respectfully play Okoye and Nakia in the film. But it’s not a complete ladies show, as one of the best players from the first film in Winston Duke’s M’Baku returns for a chance to help the Wakanda nation fight a new villain, and that’s Tenoch Huerta’s Namor, one of the oldest comic book characters ever created.

It’s his people, the ones who live in and dominate the sea and waters, who bring a new fight to the king-less nation. As Bassett says in the second and equally rousing trailer released this month, it’s easy to attack when you know they don’t have a true protector guarding the throne. However, the Wakanda people have plenty of firepower and pride left in them.

It went from being a potentially lost project soaked in tragedy to an uplifting and most likely healing journey for the cast, crew, and the fans. You saw an unusually heartfelt outpouring of love for Boseman after he passed, and co-stars like Bassett and Nyong’o say this was indeed more of a healing process for the cast. I can imagine there were tears most days on set, maybe even frequently.

Think about it. These are humans doing a job at the end of the day, but it’s an emotional playground with very intense stakes involved. How could you walk onto the set and not feel something? I give major props to all of them for bringing it and presenting a different kind of awards time movie. One that can inform, empower, and entertain.

While Boseman rests in power, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” honors his legacy with a movie that is sure to gross boatloads of cash and take care of any lingering uncertainty about which Marvel movie is the most anticipated one.

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