One week into it’s worldwide release, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has spawned a multiverse of conversations surrounding grief, fate, honor and duty — all themes that add new texture to viewers’ understanding of both the singular hero’s journey and the multiplied power of community. Having grossed more than $400 million worldwide to date, the film is at once deeply present, and Afrofuturist while dwelling in the past; the immediate invocation of the ancestors and portrayal of inherited traditions guide the sequel’s cast of characters in the absence of the late Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa) in order to carry the next generation forward.
When reflecting on her preparation for the role of Nakia, Lupita Nyong’o tells The Hollywood Reporter she had to face the task she was given, “which was of a woman who was at a different stage of accepting the loss than I was.”
“It was very hard to lose Chadwick, [but] he was not to me what he was to Nakia. So I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to go on after losing the love of your life.”
She took inspiration from Boseman’s widow, Simone Ledward Boseman.
“I remember at his memorial service, bearing witness to Simone … and the strength that she possessed. I remember being so shocked because I was broken. She was so grounded, she was like an oak,” Nyong’o says. “When I was getting ready for Nakia I thought about her a lot. Because she knew what we did not, in the same way Nakia seems to be a lot wiser and more sage with death and grief than I was.”
Danai Gurira, who reprises her role as Okoye, says that stepping back into the Black Panther universe for the sequel, especially without Boseman, was marked by a feeling of disorientation and displacement for her. But fortunately, director Ryan Coogler personally walked each actor through their adjusted character arcs (given the real world changes that surrounded the film), long before they came back to set, “so I had an understanding of what type of journey I was about to take for Okoye,” Gurira tells THR.
Continues Gurira: “If you do do a sequel, allow the characters to go through some shifts, to end up where they wouldn’t expect, to be stretched and for their humanness to be expanded. I think that’s what I’m thankful for about this world, is that we get to meet these characters in the first [film], but in this one they get stretched and expanded and stressed and taxed, and that allows for complex characters to take more hold.”
When Nyong’o was introduced to the revised script, she “wept uncontrollably,” she says, “because I was relieved to know that we would be honoring Chadwick, and that Nakia got this continued story that allowed her to grow and be in a different stage in her life.”
This second cinematic chapter in the Black Panther storyline not only introduces expanded characters but also a broadened depiction of representation for communities of color on screen. The underwater kingdom of Talokan, rich with vibranium just like Wakanda and steeped in Mayan culture, is the setting in which we meet Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and his fellow water-breathing citizens.
“We’re both dealing with an aspect of being Indigenous people that are trying to preserve that, in a world that comes and destroys that,” Gurira says. “You saw that happen throughout Africa and throughout South America, so to actually see these two peoples that have figured out how to retain their strength and actually become extremely powerful through preserving their specificity of self, I think its an astounding resonance that will hopefully be powerful for all of us who want to retain who we are in a world that tells us to be something else.”
For the actors portraying the citizens of Talokan, the cultural specificity was a point of pride.
“Its such a proud moment to be able to be part of Black Panther…and to be able to represent for our community and the Mayan community with their language,” Alex Livinalli, who plays Attuma, says. “We were speaking 100 percent Maya, Mabel, myself, and Tenoch learned it from scratch.”
“Our [language] coach said all the time, ‘I want my people to be represented with dignity in the movie, so you need to speak Maya very well,’ ” Mabel Cadena (Namora) adds. “Because for the first time in a movie like this we have the opportunity to represent the Indigenous language, so this is huge.”
Without Boseman as T’Challa, the film, cast, and crew’s “North Star,” the world of Wakanda necessarily shifted that ultimately led to a kaleidoscopic reinvention.
“With losing him, it took picking up pieces and trying to figure out a way forward, and that’s what our story is about,” Nyong’o muses. “Its about confronting and interrogating what we do when we have lost something dear to us, when we have experienced tragedy.”