On Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, members of the cast and crew of the new Marvel Studios film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” gathered to talk about what went into making the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
From the get-go, they talked about how nice it was for all of them to be back together, considering how much the world has changed since their first outing in 2018. Director Ryan Coogler said “I think that’s one of the great things when you get to do a series of films, is that you get to have these mini-reunions, you know? And four years had passed. And it was just great to see everybody again and to catch up, and to see how everybody had grown. See what kind of new things folks had went through. We were also coming off of a pandemic. You know, we actually started the film, like, right smack in the middle of it. And, you know, I think everybody experienced a sense of loneliness during the years that followed, you know, that crisis. And it was just great to see some of these folks and give ’em a big giant hug again, you know what I mean?”
Coogler then went on to talk about how the untimely death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman had brought what was already a close-knit cast even closer. “ [… ] this feeling of grief and loss … it’s also great when you don’t have to do it alone, you know? So, we were able to build that sense of community and we were able to welcome new members with the actors that portrayed Namor and Talokaneel. So, it was awesome. It was awesome. I really feel grateful.”
When asked about how Boseman’s passing changed the production of this film, producer Kevin Feige talked about how Coogler worked to make this next chapter more of a celebration than a wake: “Ryan pours everything and all of himself into everything he does, and had been working for almost a year on a version of the movie with T’Challa in it. And was finding and pouring his life experience from making the first movie, into that. And then when we lost Chad, all of that, obviously, was then poured into this movie, as well. And keeping the idea of a celebration of Wakanda and the character at the forefront, in addition to the grief that, of course, is gonna come with that.”
When asked about how the film changed and grew in response to the loss, producer Nate Moore said “I think, as storytellers, you just wanna be as honest as possible with what the characters would experience in the film after they experience the loss of T’Challa.”
Moore then used this moment to talk a little about the motivations of the antagonist of the film, Namor: “[…] Ryan found ways to express all the different colors of grief through the ensemble. And that’s not just the Wakandans, by the way, who definitely feel it, but it’s the loss that Namor and the Talokan feel because of the loss of their homeland … I think Ryan was savvy enough as a filmmaker and storyteller to weave all those themes across the entirety of the film. Which is, I think, why hopefully the film will be powerful for people.”
Tenoch Huerta Mejia, who plays Namor, spoke for a moment about his internal struggle at playing a foil to the nation of Wakanda “A lot of people feel identification with Wakanda, and I’m including myself in Wakanda, and the narrative and representation and everything. So now I have to play the bad guy who destroys, or try to destroy, that legacy.”
Mejia went a little deeper into his character’s motivations for facing off against the Wakandans, explaining “I think Ryan found a way to make it human, to justify why people do that kind of thing. Why the people choose different reactions in front of the grief [or] the threats of the life. And that’s beautiful because it’s human. So, we have these two characters, taking different decisions with the grief and the threat.”
He then went on to compare the cultural traumas the Wakandans and Namor have in common “they share the same [wound], you know, historically. I mean, like, representation of their cultures … and how they solve the problem is about their personality and their own history. So, that’s beautiful.”
One of the breakout stars of the original Black Panther film was Letitia Wright, who played Princess Shuri of Wakanda, who takes center stage in this film. When asked how she worked with the filmmakers to handle the loss that Shuri was dealing with, Wright said “What does that look like, when your heart is broken? […] This young woman going through something alongside her fellow family members, in general, and Wakandans. And I think the way it was written and the delicacy, the gentleness of how we approached it. We always spoke, we always communicated, at every step of the way. And we were able to bring something that felt real, that felt truthful. And I was able to really give my heart to it and give Shuri a full arc.”
Ryan Coogler later elaborated on what he thought was important about Shuri’s story in this film: “[…] when she lost (T’Challa) [… ]she really lost her sense of self. You know, she identified herself as this guy’s little sister, you know what I mean? And as his protector and as the person who looks out for him […] so when she loses that, it makes her very unmoored, you know? And the tricky thing about that is, you know, death comes for everybody, you know what I mean, is the truth of it. And the worst nightmare that you can have is if something were to happen to you, the people who you love and leave behind would be unmoored, would be lost after you were gone.”
Finally, Tenoch Huerta Mejia spoke again about how his Latinx roots were reflected, not just in the character of Namor, but also in the themes that carried over from the original film: “In Latin America, especially Mexico, we deny our indigenous roots, you know? It’s just like a token sometimes. But in general terms, we deny it because it’s not about genes for us because almost everybody in Mexico has indigenous or African roots. It’s about culture, you know. So culturally, we are a part from indigenous roots. So embrace those roots and honor these two sources, main sources in Latin America which is African and indigenous roots are really important.” He went on to say that he hoped his portrayal in the film would help people to learn to love their culture “And I hope this helped the people to embrace who they are, who we are, you know? Look in, everybody, at the mirror and saying, what is in the mirror is OK.”
• Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.