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Ryan Coogler on Creating a New Legacy With ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ and Honoring Chadwick Bo

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Spoilers for ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ below.

Ryan Coogler is a magician.

The director was trusted with the gargantuan responsibility of creating a sequel for 2018’s Black Panther that would live up to the first—which shattered records and shifted the culture—all without his leading man. When Chadwick Boseman died after his private battle with cancer in 2020, fans around the world grieved the loss of an icon gone too soon. Behind the scenes, Coogler and the Black Panther cast were not only mourning the death of a brother and friend but also of their T’Challa. The superhero and Wakanda’s future were uncertain until it was announced that Coogler and Marvel were moving forward and making a second film, without recasting the iconic role.

As far as storytelling goes, Coogler and fellow scriptwriter Joe Robert Cole had to collaborate in creating a narrative that both made sense within the Marvel universe and would also appropriately honor Boseman’s memory along the way. And judging by the results, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, in theaters on Nov. 11, checks every box.

“It was a priority for us that we make the film something that could work for audiences as a piece of filmmaking, as a piece of cinema, as a piece of entertainment. We wanted it to service all of those things, but we also wanted to make an ode to [Chadwick] and what he meant to us,” Coogler tells Complex. “He meant both things to us. Chadwick was very much T’Challa for us, but T’Challa was only a facet of who Chadwick Boseman was and we wanted the film to be an ode to both of those things without sacrificing everything else.”

The way Coogler handled T’Challa’s death in the movie was astute, seamless, and deeply emotional. The character dies from an undisclosed illness in the opening scene, leaving the people of Wakanda and his family in deep sorrow, similar to what people experienced in real life. A big question going into the sequel following Boseman’s passing was who would take on the Black Panther mantle as Wakanda’s protector.

The film’s trailer hinted that his little sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, would be the one to take on the role. “She was the right vehicle because when I thought about the characters and I thought about who losing T’Challa would impact the most, it made sense that it would be Shuri,” the director says about his decision to make Shuri the film’s anchor. “In the narrative of the characters, she was the only main character who had never been without T’Challa ever.”

In the film, Shuri is reeling after her brother’s death, feeling despair, anger, and frustration at her inability to save him despite her scientific efforts. Their bond was by far one of the most heartwarming aspects of the first film and the follow-up finds her in immeasurable pain, spending most of her time in her lab to take her mind off losing her big brother.

“In the Marvel Cinematic Universe when the Blip happened, both her and T’Challa Blipped out. So, the idea is they came back together. In her memory, her brother has always been there because he was her older brother,” Coogler says. “Every day she lived life, T’Challa was there. He was a constant for her, so it made sense to us that she would probably be the most impacted and that would probably be the place where the narrative should center.”

The film picks up a year later after T’Challa’s passing, leaving Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) at the helm of Wakanda. She has to balance leading and protecting the nation while also ushering her daughter through her grieving process, and dealing with her own heartbreak of losing her son. “The film is also dealing with Ramonda as well quite a bit,” he says. “Their mother-daughter relationship is one of the key relationships in the movie, and them having all these responsibilities that they have to fulfill that they can’t necessarily take a break from while they’re grieving and at the same time focusing on that relationship. I was really excited from both those perspectives to look at the story.”

Bassett delivers one of her most remarkable performances to date on Wakanda Forever. There are a few key scenes throughout the film where she is bound to leave fans breathless with the intensity of her delivery and the magnitude of her talent and skill. I ask Coogler what it was like to work with her and to witness these moments. “With Angela, the best way to direct her is to get out of the way. And to be honest, that’s what I’m doing most of the time, man,” he says. “I watch and I try to be there for support, but she’s really talented. She’s also just very, very technically skilled and versatile. She can hold a lot. She’s classically trained. She’s like a car that’s built for Formula 1 racing. The more you give her, the more she’s going to kill it.”

Not only is Bassett a master in her craft, but she also served as a pillar of strength for the cast during filming. “It was an honor to come to work with her every day to be honest because she was always impressive and she made things that are incredibly difficult look easy. She also leads by example. Man, she’s so professional,” Coogler adds. “She’s right where you need her to be. Oftentimes, she won’t leave. She’d rather just stand there and wait on the mark. And at the same time, she just makes everybody around her better, as well. An incredibly grounding force at a time when we needed that.”

The reviews of Wakanda Forever have been stellar so far, with most people praising Coogler’s ability to make the sweetest lemonade out of the most bitter lemons. The film is filled with immeasurable grief and the effect that follows when unprocessed hurt turns to anger. Coogler and the cast captured the general emotional breadth of losing a leader and the center of your world, while also delivering the action, joy, and excitement Marvel fans rush to theaters for. Coogler is only 36 years old and has already directed and produced some of the most critically acclaimed films in recent years, including Black Panther, Fruitvale Station, Judas and the Black Messiah, and the first two Creed films. Each one is incomparable to the others, and the director knows putting pressure on himself to outdo his past projects is futile.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to treat them separately. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was my first time doing a follow-up film to something that I had co-written and directed, so there was a different type of pressure there,” he says. “But what I did make sure that we did in a healthy way was ask ourselves not the question of what made Black Panther work, but the question of what were the things we were thinking about while we did it? What were the steps that we were taking while we did it? And what defines a Black Panther film?”

He continues: “We were asking ourselves this as the people who made it. We were asking what defines us? What defines what we just did? And how do we do something in those ramifications, but do something that’s more expansive?”

Black Panther broke box office records upon its release, but it also delivered Marvel’s first Black superhero. That sort of cultural and societal impact is impossible to quantify. The film made stars out of its incredibly diverse cast and presented an opportunity for studios to see how representation on the big screen drives people to theaters. The release became a cultural phenomenon, and now the sequel—especially after Boseman’s passing—is already anticipated to bring out more moviegoers who are anxious and eager to learn how Coogler and the team will continue the story without T’Challa.

“We knew that the film—if there was any comparison to be made—we knew that this film would be bigger than the previous one in terms of scope. And that’s a comparison that we would make. But it’s hard to say, ‘Hey, I’m trying to top myself,’ or anything like that,” Coogler says. “In comparison, I definitely want to push myself. I definitely want to be on the outside edge of what’s comfortable for me creatively, on the outside edge of what I’ve done before. I want to be pushing my own boundaries, but I try not to compare my films to my other films because I think that’s probably not a healthy way to look at it.”

The director has been wearing a chain with Boseman’s face on it for the majority of the film’s promo tour, which symbolizes how intentional they were in ensuring that the actor’s memory is entrenched in every part of this process. The film feels like the most heartfelt and moving cinematic expression of love and appreciation for the man who brought the Black Panther to life. We will never know what a sequel starring Boseman would have looked like or where the story would have gone, but Coogler made every right choice, step, and decision to ensure that he and the cast didn’t miss a beat with Wakanda Forever—and that they made the beloved actor and his fans proud.

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