For the entire promotional tour of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, director and co-writer Ryan Coogler tiptoed around what the original script for the long-awaited sequel looked like before the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman in 2020.
Coogler would let it be known that that a major theme was still grief, with Boseman’s King T’Challa dealing with the pain of losing five years on Earth due to being a victim of Thanos’s snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War (whereas the Wakandans in the finished product must deal with the pain of losing T’Challa).
But there’s something vital the filmmaker couldn’t say, because it would spoil the film’s deeply emotional midcredits scene, in which it’s revealed that Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and the late superhero had a young son (also named T’Challa, but going by the name Touissant in Haiti where he lives with his mother).
Coogler planned for T’Challa to become a father all along, thus why he mourned those years lost on Earth.
“Honestly that’s what the [original] script was about,” Coogler tells us when asked what kind of deliberations went into giving T’Challa and Nakia a son. “It was about T’Challa becoming a father. So there was no deliberation. That was the movie we were making. And then [Boseman died], and we shifted it a bit.”
Says producer Nate Moore of that first version of the script: “In Ryan’s mind, he wanted to explore the notion of T’Challa facing fatherhood for the first time. So it wasn’t a reaction to anything… It was a story idea that was sort of interesting. And [then when Boseman] passed, it didn’t seem appropriate to abandon that just for that reason.
“It certainly also isn’t meant to say, ‘Oh hey, get ready for the new kid.’ It’s more like, ‘Oh, hey, what an interesting story point. And I think it really dimensionalizes Nakia’s relationship with the man, and shows you the depth of their commitment to each other, which I think is kind of powerful.”
Still, though, Coogler, Moore, Kevin Feige and the rest of the brain trust of Marvel deserve major kudos for finding such a tasteful solution to what became a major debate among fans in the years since Boseman’s death: Should T’Challa be recast? Proponents would point to the fact there’s been three Spider-Men in the past 20 years. Opponents said it’s disrespectful to recast so soon.
With introducing a very young T’Challa, it feels like Marvel is essentially saying, there very well could be a new T’Challa someday… but not anytime too soon. Right?
“Yeah,” Coogler mutters after a long pause.
Moore is more committal: “Exactly. I think you’re right, and the end of the movie isn’t [saying] get ready for the next one, it’s just, ‘Hey, there is a T’Challa. It’s not the one we all know and lost.’ And I think it’s more respectful to the loss for that reason.”
Of course Marvel had no choice but to replace Boseman when it came to the Black Panther mantle. Even that provided months of speculation for fans, with no official announcement before release, and a trailer that teased whom it would be. His sister Shuri (Letitia Wright)? Nakia? Danai Gurira’s Okoye? Winston Duke’s M’Baku?
In the end they went with the most obvious choice, one they also hardly seemed like they were trying to hide too hard. Just look at the film’s marketing and movie posters, with Wright’s Shuri dead center, arms crossed in the Wakanda salute. Shuri also became Black Panther in the comics, coincidentally in a plotline also involving Wakanda Forever
“It was the only conversation we had,” says Moore. “It’s interesting, because we’re aware of conversations online. But I’m also a big comic fan. If you think about from publishing, this was a little inevitable. And when you think about it narratively, with the story we were telling, she is the most affected by T’Challa’s passing. And she maybe is the only one with the tools to bring the Black Panther mantle back, because if you remember the first film, Killmonger had destroyed all the heart-shaped herb anyway.
“So narratively it made sense. And from a purist’s standpoint, I think it’s really the only choice. Calls for M’Baku or Okoye seemed a bit like throwing darts at a dartboard for me… And Letitia Wright nails it. And Shuri’s transition from where she starts to where she ends in this film tells the story of why she should be Black Panther.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing.