The highly anticipated sequel paid tribute to the late actor and his character, King T'Challa, in several touching ways.
After the death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman in 2020, the question of how the highly anticipated sequel would continue loomed over the production. Boseman, who played King T'Challa, aka Black Panther, died at the age of 43 after a four-year battle with colon cancer. When Marvel Studios announced they wouldn't recast or digitally recreate T'Challa for the film's sequel, director Ryan Coogler and the cast were tasked with a tall order: dealing with the heartbreaking loss both off and onscreen.
Read on below for major spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Wakanda Forever opens with the death of King T'Challa offscreen. While Shuri (Letitia Wright) frantically works in her lab to develop a synthetic substitute for the Heart-Shaped Herb previously destroyed by Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), her AI Griot (voiced by Trevor Noah) keeps track of the King's failing heartbeat. Her fruitless attempts are interrupted by her mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), who quietly breaks the news that the princess's older brother has succumbed to his mysterious illness.
What follows is a beautifully elaborate funeral service as the people of Wakanda lay their king and Black Panther to rest. Ramonda and Shuri follow pallbearers carrying a casket etched with the outline of the Black Panther as Wakandans line the streets, dancing and watching them pass by. When the party reaches their destination, Ramonda and Shuri give their final goodbyes to the casket -- with a heart-wrenching break in ceremony by Shuri, who clings to the casket in her grief before Ramonda pulls her away -- and it's transported into a hovering aircraft and taken away.
As the film progresses, T'Challa's presence looms as Shuri struggles with her grief a year after her brother's death. Ramonda attempts to help her heal by taking her to burn their ceremonial clothing from T'Challa's funeral, a Wakandan tradition meant to signal the end of mourning, but Shuri is not interested in letting go of her pain. She admits that she finds it hard to find solace in the traditions and faith of her people, calling them a "construct" used to comfort people like her mother.
Ramonda counters by asking if the construct Shuri created when she thinks of her brother offers her "comfort or punishment." The answer becomes glaringly obvious when Shuri later admits to Namor (Tenoch Huerta) that she resents how she couldn't save her brother with her genius or advanced technology.
As the film races to its conclusion, Shuri is torn between following the noble path of her brother or her desire to "burn the world" after his death. Her mother's wisdom from the ancestral plane guides her to strike a truce with the kingdom of Tālokān instead of seeking revenge for Namor's ruthless murder of Ramonda. Shuri promises that Wakanda will protect Tālokān from invasion and the two return to their people.
In the end, Shuri travels to Haiti, where she reunites with Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o). She decides to finally burn her ceremonial clothing from T'Challa's funeral, officially letting herself contend with her grief and anger at his death. The moment is made more poignant by a touching montage of Boseman as the film comes to a close and Rihanna's "Lift Me Up" plays through the credits.
Wakanda Forever never reveals what disease took T'Challa’s life and it's revealed that the king hid his illness from his family and friends until the last minute. Making art imitate life, the mid-credits scene reveals that much like Boseman kept his cancer to everyone but those he felt needed to prepare for his departure, T'Challa did the same. The only person privy to the hero's sickness was Nakia, his lover and mother of his son, Toussaint.
Nakia explains that she stayed away from Wakanda and resided in Haiti because T'Challa felt the attention would be too much for their young son. But the King let them know of his failing health, getting them ready to say goodbye long before his family in Wakanda was aware of his disease.
Coogler, who spoke about stepping away from Hollywood following Boseman's death, told ET that he wanted to carry on the film and its legacy for the late actor.
"When you experience anything that sudden, as what happened with us, it's traumatic," the lauded director explained. "You go through all types of different thoughts. Thankfully, that thought that you mentioned, it was a fleeting thought. As I felt more and thought more and thought more about Chadwick and how he lived his life, it made all the sense in the world to keep going. I know that he wouldn't want us to stop."
As for where he got the strength to continue from, Coogler said he drew on his time with Boseman for inspiration.
"I mean, I was blessed. People like Chadwick don't come along often, and I was blessed to have spent a whole lot of time with him," Coogler shared. "So, I really reflected on our time together -- what it was like to work with him, looking back at pictures and videos, thinking about conversations that we had that it was just me and him, and reflecting on all of that stuff, and that gave me the motivation to get back to work."
"And once I was around the cast, and around everybody, we got the band back together so to speak -- that was all the motivation I needed," he added. "They just did fantastic work."
When it comes to how both T'Challa and Boseman were honored in the film, Wright said a lot of the credit goes to Coogler and the script he penned for the Black Panther franchise's second installment.
"We're extremely proud of how Ryan has brought a script that could honor Chad, that could honor T'Challa," Wright said. "I'm so proud of the way us as a family, the Wakandan family that you know and love, has come together to bring you a second installment, and yet, it's really hard to do this without our brother -- he should be here."
"But, as he's looking down on us," she added, "we're hoping that this film just makes him proud, and we're hoping that you guys are proud of us for what we've brought to you."
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now.
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