Lupita Nyong’o on the Bittersweet Beauty of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”
Lupita Nyong’o was nearly as stunned as the rest of the world when Chadwick Boseman, her co-star in Black Panther, passed away in August 2020. In a must-read interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Nyong’o opened up about that loss (among other things) and what it meant to carry on his legacy in the sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which arrives in theaters on November 11.
Nyong’o told THR that while she knew Boseman was sick, she hadn’t known how serious it was. That’s when she got a text from Viola Davis. “I couldn’t believe it,” Nyong’o told THR. “I was paralyzed. He had an aura. He was the leader, and we were all good with it.”
Suddenly the franchise that Boseman had led was without its beating heart. Co-writer and director Ryan Coogler and his Black Panther writer Joe Robert Cole had already written the sequel, and it centered on the maturation of Boseman’s title character, T’Challa, as a leader and the King of Wakanda. “It was a massive movie but also simultaneously a character study that delved deeply into his psyche and situation,” Coogler told THR.
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and the rest of the Black Panther creative team decided against recasting the role of T’Challa so soon after Boseman’s death. While there was concern over losing such a transformative character, one who inspired Black boys and men all over the world, Nyong’o supported the decision. As she told THR: “That is not the death of the Black Panther; that’s the whole point. It’s laying to rest [T’Challa] and allowing for real life to inform the story of the movies. I know that there are all sorts of reasons why people want him to be recast, but I don’t have the patience. I don’t have the presence of mind, or I don’t have the objectivity to argue with that. I don’t. I’m very biased.”
Nyong’o was in Kenya a few months after Boseman’s death when Coogler got in touch with her to describe what he had in mind for the sequel, in which they would deal directly with their tremendous loss. “Every time I thought about what the next Black Panther could be, my imagination fell short,” Nyong’o told THR. “Even just talking about Black Panther in the midst of still grieving Chadwick, it was really complicated emotionally to do.”
The way Coogler and Cole absorbed Boseman’s death was by making the mourning of T’Challa a major part of the film. Nyong’o was moved when she read it.
“Ryan wrote something that so honored the truth of what every one of us was feeling, those of us who knew Chadwick. He created something that could honor that and carry the story forward. By the end, I was weeping.”
Coogler and Cole not only centered the story on the loss of T’Challa, but they also reframed it from a different character’s point of view. Black Panther isn’t just a person, it’s also a mantle that a Wakandan wears, a promise to protect his—or her—people. So now, Wakanda Forever would be refocused on who was going to pick up that mantle and carry on Black Panther’s work. Most of the speculation right now is centered on Letitia Wright’s Shuri, T’Challa’s sister. She’s who stepped into the role of Black Panther in the Marvel comics, after all. Nyong’o’s Nakia would also make a worthy successor—she’s tough, resilient, intelligent, and tested—but the actress wasn’t about to reveal any details. “If I told you that, I might as well just … swim into the ocean and never be seen again,” she told THR.
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Featured image: Lupita Nyong’O as Nakia in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.