Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta talk ‘navigating grief’ through ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ characters

The "Black Panther" sequel, which chronicles the goings-on in Wakanda after the loss of King T'Challa, is already a box-office hit, having earned more than $330 million worldwide in its opening weekend.

After only five days in theaters, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is already one of the biggest films of the year, earning critical praise and a record-breaking weekend at the domestic box office, according to Deadline.

Ahead of the premiere, theGrio’s Cortney Wills sat down with Letitia Wright, who returns as Shuri in the highly anticipated sequel, and Tenoch Huerta, who joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as Namor, a shockingly powerful character who threatens to change Wakanda as we know it.

As theGrio previously reported, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” debuts after the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman, who starred in the MCU as T’Challa, the Black Panther. The film is extremely meta, dealing with the off-screen death of King T’Challa, while the actors were processing their own grief over losing Boseman.

Disney Presents Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in Mexico City
Letitia Wright attends the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” red carpet on Nov. 9, 2022 at Plaza Satélite in Mexico City. (Photo by Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images for Disney)

Wright confessed to a bout of nerves ahead of the premiere of the sequel. “For me, I was definitely nervous because we’re bringing a world that everyone knows and loves and really supports and we’re also collectivelyI grieving our brother,” she told Wills. “You don’t know how to feel really. But you hope that the film will resonate and touch people’s hearts and hopefully that’s what’s starting to happen.”

The film certainly does have an emotional tone, following the main characters — Shuri (Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) — as they navigate their grief.

“It was quite parallel,” Wright explained about her grieving process for Chadwick and Shuri’s for T’Challa. “You’re trying to bury yourself in work. I bury myself in acting and Shuri buries herself in technology. Being real with how your emotions are playing out, being real with processing a loss … that was something I think I was just able to tap into.”

While the film is in many ways a meditation on grief, it still stands tall as an engaging entry in the MCU, expanding the world and heightening the stakes with new characters, specifically Tenoch Huerta’s Namor. Technically the villain of the film  — like Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in the original — Namor is incredibly sympathetic. He exhibits understandable, and in many ways, noble motivations behind questionable actions.

“That was the idea: to create this empathy with this character,” Huerta explained to Wills. “His motivations are to protect his people, to protect his culture, to protect what he loves the most. When you do a character with these characteristics, it’s easier to find yourself in those characters.”

Disney Presents Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in Mexico City
Tenoch Huerta speaks during the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” red carpet on Nov. 9, 2022 at Plaza Satélite in Mexico City. (Photo by Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images for Disney)

In “Wakanda Forever,” grief and how it is manifested is a major theme  — that of the people that both Shuri and Namor represent, plus the grief of these two characters. “They have a wound, they are in grief, but they decide to do something different,” Huerta noted. “They solve that pain in different ways but at the end they have a tremendous and enormous pain in their hearts.”

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is currently playing in theaters.

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