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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever cast on the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman

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In a neutral grey room, somewhere in Los Angeles, the key cast of Black Panther reassemble for a chinwag.

They include sleekly suited Londoner Letitia Wright, who first stormed Hollywood in her breakthrough role as the Black Panther’s brainy little sister and there’s a neatly Afro-ed Danai Gurira (more familiar on screen as Wakanda’s bald-headed General), busily admiring the striking monochrome striped outfit sported by Lupita Nyong’o (Us, 12 Years A Slave), who plays T’Challa’s lover.

But one person is very much missing – the Panther himself.

It’s just over two years since star Chadwick Boseman’s death from colon cancer shocked the world. The star – aged just 43 – had hidden his illness and his passing left his Panther family stunned.

Director Ryan Coogler recalls the comfort of their reunion. ‘It was just great to see some of these folks and give them a big giant hug again,’ he says. ‘What we were all processing [was] this feeling of grief and loss. But it’s so great when you don’t have to do that alone, you know?’

Coogler was already a year into developing a Black Panther sequel when the man they called ‘Chad’ died. ‘In my memory of it,’ chimes in Kevin Feige, Marvel’s perma-baseball-hatted head producer, ‘the shock turned into, well, what do we do? What should we do? Should we do anything?’

Given Black Panther made over $1.3billion and is still ranked as the 14th highest-grossing movie of all time, you have to wonder if doing nothing, ie, scrapping a sequel, was ever seriously on the cards. It was surely more a case of how to do it right.

Re-casting or bringing Boseman back on screen via CGI and body-doubling were quickly ruled out. Instead Coogler decided to pour his personal grief into the film with an emotionally powerful storyline that mirrored Boseman’s real-life passing with that of Black Panther/King T’Challa’s, leaving the throne of the fictional kingdom of Wakanda vacant.

‘When you lose somebody there’s like a blast radius,’ he tells us. ‘Like a bomb that goes off. And who was the closest to it? That’s who we explored.’

First and foremost, that meant engaging T’Challa’s science genius sister, Shuri.

‘There was a delicacy, a gentleness of how we approached it,’ actress Letitia Wright explains. ‘Firstly through connecting with Ryan, you know? That heart-to-heart conversation of “how do we take a step forward”, because it was so raw, when we spoke.’

That sentiment is echoed by co-star Lupita Nyong’o, who plays super-spy Nakia.

That’s how I felt,’ she says, peeking out from under her broad-brimmed black hat. ‘I felt raw and wanted to express it. Reading the script I was so envious of Letitia because she gets to be chaotic,’ she laughs.

Her own character Nakia is the franchise’s oasis of calm. And though that initially ‘frustrated’ her, ‘actually playing her was very therapeutic for me.’

Riri ‘n’ RiRi join the Black Panther family

Riri Williams/Ironheart (Dominique Thorne)

New character alert! Riri is a 19-year-old genius and sometime MIT student who builds a suspiciously Iron Man-like red rocket-blaster suit.

Rhianna

As in *the* Rhianna. The entrepreneur/actor/humanitarian/second-best-selling female music artist of all time collaborated on theme tune Lift Me Up, her first solo single in six years.

For Danai Gurira, who plays Okoye, the fearsome, spear-twirling head of the Dora Milaje – Wakanda’s all-female special forces – this movie was a way of ‘honouring’ her lost ‘brother’.

She thinks Boseman would’ve approved of the sequel’s female-slanted action. ‘He loved to see us shine and he love to see us do our thing,’ she says. For all of them, though, making the movie without Chad was hard: ‘I had to anchor myself to my comrades around me to walk through it.’

All of them clearly drew strength from their togetherness. And the movie is a celebration of that, as well as the visually glorious, Afro-futurist delights of the kingdom of Wakanda.

The result is a Marvel movie that has genuine human depth and a willingness to spend time developing its characters in addition to eye-popping blockbuster spectacle.

‘We were able to bring something that felt real, that felt truthful and I was able to really give my heart to it,’ declares Wright earnestly. ‘And hopefully people can really resonate with that and find some healing alongside us.’

Rest In Power, Chadwick Boseman. Wakanda Forever!

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is out Friday in cinemas


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