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‘Black Panther': The 10 Most Interesting Things We Learned From Ryan Coogler’s Director Commentary

Director Ryan Coogler gives all kinds of interesting insights about the creation and symbolism in the best Marvel Studios movie

There’s a reason that “Black Panther” is the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies — it goes beyond just being a superhero movie to become a politically charged, symbolic, expertly crafted movie. There’s plenty to pick up while watching “Black Panther,” but if you want the full deep-dive experience, watching the home video release with Director and Co-writer Ryan Coogler’s commentary is the way to go.

Coogler and Production Designer Hannah Beachler, who joins him on the commentary, offer a ton of fascinating insights into “Black Panther” and looks behind the scenes, and into the minds of what the filmmakers as they were creating the movie. Here are the 10 things we found most interesting about “Black Panther” thanks to the commentary.

The use of color is essential to the story

Anybody who watches “Black Panther” can see that how color is used throughout the movie is an essential part of the production design. Wakanda is a vibrant place because of it, for one thing, and how color is used in sets and costumes gives “Black Panther” its intrinsically African feel. Beyond just the obvious application of colors to certain characters that help identify them — T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in black, Okoye (Danai Gurira) in red and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) in green — Coogler made heavy use of color symbolically, too. Purple is used for spirituality and royalty, for instance.

The color that might be used most in the movie, blue, designates colonialism throughout the movie, which is why it’s an essential part of the costumes for Klaue (Andy Serkis), Ross (Martin Freeman) and, of course, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). The London scene in particular, where Killmonger and Klaue steal vibranium from an exhibit, is awash in blue. Coogler said the scene even has a slight blue filter applied to it, to really give the whole sequence a specific symbolic feeling.

That London scene had a real-life inspiration

The introduction of Killmonger is his visit to a London museum, where he has poignant interaction with a white curator as she tells him about African history and artifacts. Killmonger plays along with her for a bit, allowing her to show off her expertise, before schooling her on Wakanda, and the fact that she doesn’t actually know what’s in her museum’s collection.

In the commentary, Coogler said that moment preceding the heist, which plays heavily into the film’s themes of colonialism, was based on a real incident. He said he and his wife experience something similar in a museum — without the following theft and shootout, of course.

The succession fight was inspired in part by Steven Spielberg’s film “Lincoln”

The fight for succession in Wakanda, in which the king must entertain any challengers in a potential fight to the death, pulls double-duty in “Black Panther”: It’s a fun action scene and rooted in tradition, but it also has political overtones of bringing the tribes together and giving them an opportunity to show support, or distrust, in their leadership. Coogler said the animated discussion of politics that occurs when M’Baku (Winston Duke) shows up from the Jabari tribe and calls T’Challa out (before the two men beat the hell out of each other) was inspired by the animated political discussions in “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg’s movie about the 16th president.

That rhino isn’t a rhino

CGI helps bring the rhinoceros to life when T’Challa visits W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) and the Border Tribe early in the movie. When W’Kabi feeds the rhino an apple in the scene, the part is actually played by a Clydesdale horse. The horse is “wrapped” in CGI in order to create the rhino, whose name M20. That name came from a real-life rhino Coogler saw at a wildlife preserve when the crew was visiting South Africa to scout locations, calling it “the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Though the real M20 had his horn removed in order to protect him from poachers, it’s preserved in the “Black Panther” version of the animal.

Names and identities matter

Along with colors, names and identities are another big motif throughout “Black Panther,” Coogler said. T’Challa gains strength from his identity as the son of T’Chaka, and from his name, as seen during the coronation fight with M’Baku. Meanwhile, Killmonger echoes the experience of African Americans — he has had a number of names, and a number of different aspects to his identity, some formed by Wakanda and some formed by his life in the Western World. A big part of the story in “Black Panther” is about T’Challa figuring out who he is and what king he’ll be, and that filters down to Wakanda finding its own identity going forward.

Killmonger lost both his parents

Though it’s not really discussed in the movie, Coogler explained that what N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) was doing when T’Chaka (Atwanda Kani) found him in Oakland. He was planning a jailbreak to rescue the woman he’d fallen in love with, who was also Killmonger’s mother. Obviously, that mission never went through, since T’Chaka killed N’Jobu in Oakland. Killmonger’s unnamed mother died in prison as a result, which meant the boy wound up an orphan — which makes his anger at Wakanda and T’Chaka for abandoning him even more reasonable.

T’Challa’s superpower probably isn’t what you think

The powers that make T’Challa the Black Panther are his strength and speed, as well as his bulletproof suit, but those things are only what make T’Challa good at fighting people. In Coogler’s opinion, the ting that’s actually T’Challa’s power — the thing that makes him a hero to Wakanda and triumphant in the end — is his ability to know who to trust, and building strong relationships. He confides in Nakia about T’Chaka, N’Jobu and Killmonger in order to get her advice, and he survives Killmonger defeating him in ritual combat thanks to his previous actions with his family and M’Baku. Coogler describes T’Challa as a strong judge of character and an inspirational leader, and those are the things that ultimately allow him to be a hero. It’s an interesting perspective on the idea of superheroes in general.

Killmonger had a real-life inspiration

Killmonger is a phenomenal villain because he’s often so relatable. Even though he’s a bad guy who is willing to hurt and kill people to achieve his goals, where he’s coming from and what he believes also makes sense. Jordan plays the role by tapping into the pain of what Killmonger has been through — even though he’s fought and killed throughout his life, he’s not happy about it. Coogler said the character was inspired by a real veteran he met in New York, who told him about his experiences as a soldier. “There was a pain and matter-of-factness to it that stuck with me,” Coogler said in the commentary.

Nakia was inspired by Harriet Tubman

The characters of “Black Panther” and Wakanda are informed by history in a lot of ways, as Coogler described them. The scene in which Nakia manages to spirit away Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Romanda (Angela Bassett) is meant to call up Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, a historic figure who inspires the character of Nakia in a number of ways. The skills Tubman acquired rescuing slaves she later applied as a spy for the Union Army — much like Nakia, who serves Wakanda as a spy and War Dog.

Winston Duke improvised that perfect scene shutting down Ross

When the protagonists make their way to the Jabari tribe to escape Killmonger, they seek an audience with M’Baku. As Shuri, Nakia and Ramonda try to convince M’Baku to take the heart-shaped herb and oppose Killmonger, Ross attempts to step up and talk to the leader. M’Baku suddenly starts shouting, invoking the sounds gorillas make, in order to shut down Ross and stop him from speaking. It’s a perfect moment for the movie’s anti-colonialist and feminist themes, since Ross sort of inadvertently steps in to take control from the Wakandan women in the scene, but M’Baku has none of it. Coogler said in the commentary that shouting down Ross and totally preventing him from speaking was an ad-lib by Winston Duke on the day, and it’s definitely one that elevates the scene.