When Marvel's Black Panther made its debut in 2018, it felt like a new dawn for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Strong character development fused with convincing action sequences and a strong socio-political element to deliver more than just another comic book movie.
Instead, Black Panther became a cultural talking point about the importance of challenging the superhero movie hegemony. Anchored by the late Chadwick Boseman's titular T'Challa, the movie was a critical, artistic and commercial success, eventually scooping several Oscars in a rare sweep for the superhero genre.
Naturally, it felt like that vibrant new dawn had waned upon the news of Boseman's death in August 2020. It presented a near-impossible challenge as far as the Black Panther sequel, subsequently named Wakanda Forever, was concerned. How on Earth (or indeed Wakanda) does one continue a legacy in light of such a grievous absence?
Returning director Ryan Coogler has addressed this formidable challenge in the latest issue of Empire Magazine, which is fronted by Wakanda Forever. He says he was faced with a central question: "How do you carry on in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds?"
And yet, Coogler has carried on, reconfiguring the world of Wakanda around its strong women warriors, the Dora Milaje. What was the supporting cast has now become the primary focus.
Coogler says of his ensemble: “This unique group is more like a band than it is a group of actors, and Chad was our lead singer. So for me, it was like, ‘How do I figure out a song that they can still get up there and sing?’, in light of what we were dealing with.”
One of the main players is T'Challa's sister, Shuri, played, as before, by Letitia Wright. Other returning faces include Angela Bassett as T'Challa's mother, Queen Ramonda, Lupita Nyong'o as the primary Dora Milaje strategist Nakia and Danai Gurira as the fierce warrior Okoye.
Wright, whose portrayal of Shuri in the original film was a scene-stealing highlight, confessed to feelings of "dread". She adds: “Ryan had walked me through what the film was going to be when Chadwick was still alive. And so once we lost him, the thought that we could go on, it was just unfathomable to me.”
She adds: “Shuri’s journey has allowed me to grieve, to cry, to laugh, and to gain strength that I never thought I could ever have. Trials and tribulations make you who you are. You either fold or you get up and go again. I feel like Shuri kept looking at me every day, asking me if I was gonna fold or go again. And I just kept going until healing started to happen for me.”
Ultimately, Wright says she worked through her fears and was ultimately stunned by the end result. “What Ryan ended up sharing with me was just so utterly truthful and beautiful. By the end of it, I was in tears.”
No doubt Wright's reaction will be mirrored by that of the audience. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is released at Cineworld cinemas on November 11.
Want more? Check out our breakdown of the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever trailer.