For Marvel fans who have considered skipping ‘Wakanda Forever’ / When Ryan Coogler is enuf
OPINION: In response to the #RecastTChalla movement, theGrio explains why skeptical fans should see “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” based on director Ryan Coogler’s track record, among other things.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Marvel’s “Black Panther” was one of 2018’s most anticipated films and became a cultural phenomenon. Four years later, its sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” is one of the most polarizing films in the history of comic book movies (CBMs) leading up to its Nov. 11 theatrical release. It has much to do with the #RecastTChalla campaign.
Marvel Studios and director Ryan Coogler elected to kill off “Black Panther’s” leading character, King T’Challa, following the death of Chadwick Boseman to colon cancer in 2020. Many on social media have said they will not watch “Wakanda Forever” because the franchise is moving on without the titular character.
But Coogler should have earned fans’ trust by now. His stellar work as a filmmaker and screenwriter should be enough for skeptical viewers to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The #RecastTChalla movement started after Marvel President Kevin Feige announced that T’Challa would not return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Fans started a petition and the #RecastTChalla hashtag hit social media.
Many fans assert that they won’t see the film because they are disappointed in Coogler and Marvel for numerous reasons. One reason is that Boseman’s death was used as a promotional tool for the film. That is understandable, considering that some industry practices are questionable at best.
Following, however, are some reasons that fans should see the film.
First and foremost, there’s Coogler’s track record.
He has only directed three films to date: “Fruitvale Station,” “Creed” and
Black Panther.” His direction in each film expertly walks the line between the grand and intimate. He extracts dynamic performances from his cast and establishes a signature usage of setting and scenery that has paid great dividends, particularly as it regards the masterful world-building in “Black Panther.”
He wrote or co-wrote the screenplay for each of the aforementioned films. His writing is comparable to his directing. He writes complex characters. The flaws of his heroes are obvious but somehow enhanced their virtues, lending a deeper authenticity to them. Antagonists aren’t pure evil, but rather products of their environments and circumstances.
Such nuances in narratives are praised in the film industry in general and are rare in CBMs.
Coogler was so distraught over Boseman’s death that he considered retiring altogether. It must be considered that the portrayal of T’Challa he was originally crafting while Boseman was alive was with the actor’s performance, presence and demeanor in mind. It’s less of a script than it is a tailor-made suit.
In a “Wakanda Forever” featurette, Coogler described Boseman as an “artistic partner” in the creation of the first “Black Panther” film and beyond. Boseman’s imprint on the direction of the original sequel idea may have been so large that it would have caused clashes with another actor.
This leads to another point that the #RecastTChalla contingent has expressed. The roles and characters are bigger than the actor-actress who portrays them.
Importantly, T’Challa — the King of Wakanda — was an important figure and not just in comic books or CBMs. Because of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), T’Challa has become a symbol of pride, integrity, and regality for the Black community. His absence from MCU may create a void for people who saw T’Challa as a beacon, an icon when Hollywood has churned out so few of such positive, inspiring Black roles.
Marvel and Coogler, ultimately, were in a no-win situation. Had they recast T’Challa, many other fans would be lukewarm about the new actor, despite how well he played the role because Boseman’s portrayal was already so iconic and definitive. Who knows if it would not have spawned a #NotMyBlackPanther campaign?
T’Challa was indeed a much-needed symbol for the Black community. But remember, the first “Black Panther” worked well because the women around T’Challa — General Okoye and the Dora Milaje, war dog agent Nakia, sister Shuri and Queen Ramonda — supported and counseled him.
With one of them taking on the Black Panther mantle, “Wakanda Forever” will be an example of how Black women will thrive, protect and advance their community when placed fully in charge. This in and of itself is equally an inspiring and necessary aspect of the film to portray.
Another argument regarding the decision to move on without T’Challa is the fact that other franchises have recast titular characters for any number of reasons, including the death of the original actor. This argument requires some context. There actually isn’t a definitive precedent for dealing with the death of an actor playing a main CBM character in the midst of the franchise.
Yes, there have been many Batmans. There have been many Supermans. There have been many Spider-Mans.
However, did Michael Keaton die after “Batman (1989)?” Did Christopher Reeve die after “Superman: The Movie?” Did Toby Maguire die after “Spider-Man?” When Val Kilmer succeeded Keaton, Brandon Routh succeeded Reeves, and Andrew Garfield succeeded Maguire. Those were series reboots with different producers, directors, writers and timelines.
Marvel is replacing the recently departed William Hurt with Harrison Ford in the role of Thunderbolt Ross. But Thunderbolt Ross was not the titular character in any of the films in which he appeared. Neither was the character of Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, who was recast from the third film by actor Michael Gambon after the original actor, Richard Harris, passed away.
People die — often suddenly and without warning. It’s unavoidable and life’s only real certainty. Coogler is an artist and art in its purest form is a reflection of an artist reacting to the world around him or her. As a result, Cooler used “Wakanda Forever” as an opportunity to make a film that deals with that reality on a large scale.
Yes, CBMs are entertainment and escapism. It’s understandable to fight back against diving too deeply into such serious and somber subject matter, especially when other films in the MCU will be affected. But the MCU’s foundation — 2008’s “Iron Man” — is rooted in death, trauma and PTSD. Are those not serious and somber subjects to tackle for a CBM?
And Feige might have left the door creaked open for a T’Challa return.
The Marvel boss said T’Challa would not again reappear in the MCU’s Earth 616 universe. This means the Earth that spawned all the MCU’s characters as we know them.
However, given the fact that the MCU is in the throes of the multiverse saga, in which variants, or alternative versions of the established characters exist (see “Loki”, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness”), it can be interpreted that T’Challa will be recast in the MCU via a variant from another timeline.
If you felt that it was a bad idea to kill T’Challa off, see “Wakanda Forever” anyway. If you still feel that way afterward, that’s cool, at least you gave Coogler and the team the benefit of the doubt. Some of you still won’t see it anyway — and you know what? — that’s cool, too.
Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio. He is an award-winning music journalist, TV producer and director based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music, Okayplayer, and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.
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