Sequels to Marvel films always have high expectations thrust upon them, but none of them have the expectations that Black Panther’s does. Wakanda Forever is an unenviable position, both as the follow up to a critical and commercial success that became the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, and also as a film that has the shadow of lead actor Chadwick Boseman’s death hovering around it.
This is something that Marvel Studios and director/writer Ryan Coogler were acutely aware of, and at the studio’s Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend, the cast and crew for the November film decided to just embrace that. From its first trailer, it’s clear that as the remaining Wakandans deal with the sudden arrival of Tenoch Huerta’s Namor, the shared loss of both Boseman and T’Challa is film’s primary point. Anything else, from Namor himself to the introduction of Dominique Thorne’s Ironheart, to whoever winds up being the new Panther, is secondary to collective grief.
Recasting T’Challa was taken off the table almost immediately by Kevin Feige months after Boseman’s passing, as was the idea of using CGI to recreate him. For the most part, folks have understood, but others have been urging Feige and Marvel Studios on social media to go and recast T’Challa. According to the movement’s petition, writing off T’Challa comes “at the expense of audiences (especially Black boys and men) who saw themselves in him.” In late 2021, the matter became further complicated when Boseman’s brother Derrick made a statement saying he believed his late brother would’ve wanted another actor to take over the role following his passing. And while not on the same level, actor Letitia Wright, who plays T’Challa’s sister Shuri (who took the Panther mantle for a spell in the comics), is said to have had an openly anti-vaccination stance during Wakanda’s production.
Suffice to say, there is a weird energy around Wakanda Forever that’ll make talking about it, much less seeing it, difficult. The ones in favour of a recast have their reasons for it: some are misogynistic, others are practical — after all, living through multiple superhero recastings quickly makes you understand the impermanence of this industry. At the heart of the recasting desires is a very real and raw desire to see T’Challa live on; Boseman imbued that character with a magnetic presence and warmth that he managed to successfully capture even in the character’s animated appearances. And though Disney and Marvel often want to keep characters linked to their actors to a ridiculous degree, if there were any time to break that rule, it would be in a situation like this.
With how much Marvel’s pushing the idea of “The Multiverse Saga,” and one of the upcoming Avengers movies being named after a massive multiversal soft reboot, we will surely see T’Challa in some form again. There’ve been several multiverse counterparts of him cropping up in the comics and shows lately, and grim as it sounds, the multiverse offers a way around real world complications like these. It’s not a question of “if,” but “when.”
For now, it’s alright that Wakanda Forever is taking the most comfortable route navigating an unfortunate, sombre occasion. The cast and crew are already going to have to spend the next four months reiterating their feelings on a topic they’d likely rather not, and adding a new actor into a role left by their friend wouldn’t be fair. Not to the original cast, and certainly not to the newcomer, who would have to be torn between trying to make the role their own and also doing justice to what came before. If Christopher Judge was afraid of comparisons when he voiced T’Challa for the Avengers game, then a film actor would be equally, if not more, worried. For now, keeping that version of the character locked off the Boseman is perfectly understandable. No one involved should know how to proceed until they’re truly good and ready.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will release in theatres on November 1o.