The following message contains SPOILERS for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. (Duh.)
Every person reading this knows what happened to Chadwick Boseman. The beloved actor passed away on August 28, 2020 after a private battle with colon cancer. Boseman had appeared in films like draft day, 42and Climbbut he was best known as T’Challa, the superhero known as Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Boseman had made four appearances as T’Challa before his death, in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity Warand Avengers: Endgame. He was to reprise the role in a Black Panther sequel, but obviously it was not to be. Marvel could have chosen to wear one as if Boseman’s death hadn’t happened; they could have recast the role of T’Challa and stick to their original plan for wakanda forever has been. Instead, writer/director Ryan Coogler decided to incorporate Boseman’s actual death into the MCU, making T’Challa’s death the sequel’s triggering incident.
There, too, there were many paths that Marvel and Coogler could have taken. They could have killed T’Challa in battle. They could have found another way to remove him from the story in the short term, while leaving the door open to overhaul the role down the line. Instead, they got as close to reality as that kind of superhero fantasy would allow. In the opening minutes of the film, T’Challa is dying of an incurable but unspecified illness. His sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) desperately tries to save his life.
While the film never goes into detail about the disease that killed T’Challa, it does explain how a superhero with enhanced strength and invulnerability could be brought down by something as mundane as a sickness. Under normal circumstances, the Black Panther could be saved by ingesting the “heart-shaped herb”, the magical Wakandan substance that gives the Panther his powers. But all of Wakanda’s heart-shaped herbs were destroyed by Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in Black Panther. Shuri attempts to recreate it synethically but fails.
Throughout the film, there are other allusions to Boseman’s real-life battle with cancer, which he kept private until his death. characters in wakanda foreverThis implies that T’Challa approached his illness in the same way, hiding it from many others around him until the very end of his life. This choice again allows Coogler to make wakanda forever even more personal; to explore how the film’s cast and crew have been affected by this loss.
The film ends up pushing some of those emotions to the background in order to focus on the storyline involving a brewing war between Wakanda and Talokan, an ancient underwater civilization ruled by Namor. But the characters’ feelings about T’Challa are constantly brought up, and they become very important to the film’s climax. They are also the most powerful scenes in the entire film. It is not a coincidence.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now.
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