When a film or television production suffers the loss of a major actor, it leaves the cast and crew with the heartbreaking challenge of how to move forward.
Those associated with Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” know this all too well. Embarking on an emotionally challenging journey, after suffering the loss of lead actor Chadwick Boseman back in 2020, this group made it work somehow, some way.
But while Boseman’s shocking death left the cast and crew of the film with a large void, it also created an opportunity to change the film in a way that honored him. And given Boseman’s loss came at a time of other film industry challenges — delays, injuries and COVID-19 issues among them — the crew found a way to sojourn on.
Against all odds, the film was finally released Nov. 11, receiving critical praise for its tribute to the late actor.
Louis D’Esposito, the executive producer of the film, said the film has “the perfect balance of honoring his legacy and a feeling of optimism for the future” at the Los Angeles premiere.
After the overwhelming success of 2018’s “Black Panther,” fans were eager to see more. The popularity of the film led to immediate discussions and ideas for a sequel upon the first film’s release, with development officially being confirmed the following year.
Plans were already set for where Marvel and Coogler wanted to take T’Challa, Boseman’s character, for the sequel when the unthinkable news broke.
Boseman passed away on Aug. 28, 2020 after a four-year battle with Stage IV colon cancer. And with the star of the film gone, the question arose: What will happen to Black Panther?
In December 2020, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige officially announced that in Boseman’s honor, the character would not be recast nor be revived with visual effects.
Coogler, who had already finished a draft of the script for the sequel prior to Boseman’s
passing, took his time rewriting a new script, one that he considered to be the most challenging
feat of his career.
Despite the intense difficulty, he knew the new script had to continue the story of Wakanda while also honoring and celebrating the legacy of both T’Challa and Boseman.
In order to continue said story of Wakanda, Coogler’s new script brought the major supporting characters to the forefront of the film and would focus on their reactions to T’Challa’s death with Letitia Wright’s Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister, becoming the main focus of the new film.
Wright, however, would not solely receive attention for her new starring role in the film. The actress attracted attention after retweeting a Youtube video that promoted an anti-vaccine
and transphobic message in December 2020.
Though Wright stated her reasoning was to bring awareness into what people would be putting into their bodies, Wright still earned greatly negative controversy for her views and subsequently left social media.
Further damage to Wright’s reputation came in October 2021 of the following year when she was alleged to have continued promoting her own anti-vaccine views on the set of the film with the actress having to briefly return to social media to deny said allegations.
Controversy was not the only thing bringing the rising star to headlines. In August of that same year, Wright suffered what were believed to be minor injuries during filming and had to be hospitalized for an extended period. To combat the absence of the new lead, Coogler and crew began filming all scenes that did not require Wright until that was no longer an option. With no other options left, production on the anticipated film had to shut down and filming was delayed for another two months before Wright recovered and returned.
Though it seemed things were finally starting to look up once more for the film, another delay came in the form of the Omnicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. Actress Lupita Nyong’o was one of the several cast/crew members to test positive for the variant. The delay would only last a quick week and with filming back on schedule, principal filming returned and concluded in March of 2022.
After the long years of mourning, rewriting, and delays, the long-awaited film finally held its Los Angeles premiere on Oct. 26 that same year and Boseman’s legacy and memory was one of the main focuses of the night.
Victoria Alonso, fellow executive producer of the film, spoke of Boseman and called the film a celebration of the actor’s life and work.
“For us, it’s bittersweet obviously. But we’re honored and it took a long time to get us here but now we’re here and we’re glad we are all here and we’re together,” she said. “The spirit of him is here.”
Besides D’Esposito and Alonso, Wright spoke about how great it felt for the cast to reunite after the tragedy and what it meant for them to bring this film to audiences.
“Teaming up again with purpose, with meaning, with love, it meant the world to us to reunite and to bring this film to you,” she said.
The film, which does involve major themes of grief, loss, and even anger at that loss, resonated with cast members like Winston Duke and even director Ryan Coogler. At the premiere, Duke recalled the “melancholic” feelings on set which despite how joyful it was to be amongst his peers, it was still sad due to the unfortunate circumstances.
“At the end of the day, we made something really special and we knew that this time. There’s no mistaking that. It’s not a surprise,” he said.
Coogler, before leaving the interview stage, recalled the overall question he made for himself before setting out to bring the film to life.
“How do you move on when you feel like you can’t? How do you move on in the face of immeasurable odds? How do you move on when your heart is broken,” he said. “I think that this film speaks to that and it’s a joyous film. It’s a celebratory film.”
Since the film’s worldwide release on Nov. 11, it has grossed over $680 million worldwide and even went on to hold the biggest opening weekend ever for a November-released film and earned positive reviews for its emotional performances, depth, themes, and of course, tribute to Boseman.