Chadwick Boseman cannot be replaced, but the Black Panther must live on. Wakanda Forever.
Once the initial shock of Boseman’s death passed, the conversation among fans and admirers inevitably turned to the question of what happens next for his most famous role — King T’Challa in “Black Panther.”
As Black Panther, Boseman, who died Friday at age 43 after a 4-year battle with colon cancer, not only led an enormous hit film franchise, he also became an icon of Black culture in America in the process. Suffice to say, this has sparked an often intense debate about how Marvel Studios and Disney should proceed, both with the franchise itself, and the lead character who has become synonymous with his actor.
“Black Panther 2” was intended to be a major part of Marvel’s Phase Four, which also includes “Eternals,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Captain Marvel 2,” and it’s still slated for release on May 6, 2022, a release date that has remained firm even during the coronavirus pandemic. Disney did not respond to a request for comment.
But filming has not yet started on the film, and director Ryan Coogler said in his tribute to Boseman that he was still in the script phase, having “spent the last year preparing, imagining and writing words for him to say.”
Here’s a look at some of the options Disney will no doubt consider.
1. Recast the role King T’Challa with another actor.
By all accounts, this is a non-starter and would lead to a fan revolt. Fans have been adamant that Boseman’s role as King T’Challa should not be recast and that his panther claws could pass on to another, even as others on the web have criticized them for discussing the franchise’s intellectual property too soon after his death.
Marvel in the past has not been shy about recasting major roles between films, be it Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk or Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle as War Machine. But the circumstances of those re-castings were nothing like this and as Boseman’s portrayal of the character meant so much to so many people, it’s hard to picture anyone else playing the part.
Plus, as many fans have noted, Boseman was integral to the character of T’Challa, something director Ryan Coogler talked about at length in a tribute he posted Saturday. Among other things, Coolger said a big part of why he took the job directing “Black Panther” was because of how Boseman and actor John Kani advocated for their characters to speak in traditional Xhosa and with an African accent. And there’s no question Boseman’s influence (who also worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter and producer) would’ve been enormous on the creative direction of the sequel.
“We would often speak about heritage and what it means to be African. When preparing for the film, he would ponder every decision, every choice, not just for how it would reflect on himself, but how those choices could reverberate. I haven’t grieved a loss this acute before,” Coogler said in part. “It leaves me broken knowing that I won’t be able to watch another close-up of him in the monitor again or walk up to him and ask for another take.”
Coogler also noted that one of the film’s most iconic moments — when a dying Killmonger tells T’Challa “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.” — also sprang from a suggestion Boseman made.
It’s also possible, though extremely unlikely, Coogler and Disney decide there is no continuing the “Black Panther” franchise in any way without Boseman involved. And besides, no one wants to see the “Black Panther” series gone by any means. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
2. Pass the Black Panther mantle to another character.
With recasting likely off the table, Letitia Wright’s character Shuri has become a popular name among many fans for who should become the next Black Panther. Shuri’s ascension to the throne even has some precedent in the comic books. Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, first took up the mantle in the first issue of the “Dark Reign” era of the “Black Panther” series from 2008. As Marvel explains, after T’Challa was brutally attacked by Doctor Doom, Queen Orono took over leadership of Wakanda and designated Shuri with the powers of the Black Panther.
“Black Panther isn’t just a character. It’s an ideal. This role needs to live on so that black people, children in particular, can see themselves as powerful. So many of our dreams die. We can’t let a black superhero be one of them,” The Atlantic contributor Jemele Hill wrote in a tweet Saturday. “‘Black Panther’ was too necessary to the culture. We knew it was important, which is why we celebrated it the way we did. That celebration shouldn’t stop. And I don’t think Chadwick would want it to. The best way to honor his legacy is for it to continue.”
3. Use CGI or archived footage to accomplish either 1 or 2
The only situation that even comes close to this is Carrie Fisher, who died before filming her role in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” and Paul Walker and the “Fast and the Furious” franchise. For Fisher, director J.J. Abrams used footage from “The Force Awakens” to include her in the final of the film of the trilogy. For “Furious 7,” Walker’s brothers Caleb and Cody were used as stand-ins and Walker’s face was superimposed in.
There is no way to know if any archival footage exists and if the fans feel this strongly about re-casting the role, the idea of editing in old footage to a new movie won’t go over well either.
Of course, there’s also a possibility that we haven’t heard the last of Boseman’s T’Challa, as there’s a Marvel animated series that’s meant to arrive on Disney+ next year called “What If…” That series exists outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and imagines alternate scenarios and universes that would go against the stories we’ve come to know from the movies, and it’s expected that some of the actors who made those roles iconic would still return for the animated series. Representatives for Disney and Disney+ did not respond to a request for comment on whether Boseman had already recorded a voice role for the series.
While it’s still too early to say anything with confidence, Marvel boss Kevin Feige hinted in his own statement that Boseman can’t so easily be replaced.
“Chadwick’s passing is absolutely devastating. He was our T’Challa, our Black Panther, and our dear friend,” Feige said in his statement about Boseman’s passing. “Each time he stepped on set, he radiated charisma and joy, and each time he appeared on screen, he created something truly indelible. He embodied a lot of amazing people in his work, and nobody was better at bringing great men to life. He was as smart and kind and powerful and strong as any person he portrayed. Now he takes his place alongside them as an icon for the ages. The Marvel Studios family deeply mourns his loss, and we are grieving tonight with his family.”
Brian Welk contributed to this report.