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When Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer in late 2020, the future of his superhero franchise, Black Panther, was uncertain. How does a story continue without its centerpiece? How does a cast carry on under the burden of grief after losing their leading star?
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lupita Nyong’o reflects on how Boseman's unexpected death rocked her and the Black Panther cast, both personally and professionally.
Previously, Boseman's producing partner, Logan Coles, his longtime agent, Michael Greene, and his trainer, Addison Henderson, shared that the actor chose to keep his cancer diagnosis a secret partly due to his mother, Carolyn's, influence.
"[She] always taught him not to have people fuss over him," Greene said. "He also felt in this business that people trip out about things, and he was a very, very private person."
Henderson added that Boseman was passionate about "using his time and his moment to really affect people."
"Some people wait a lifetime to get the opportunity that he had, and Chad had so much wisdom, so much knowledge, so much inside of him that he wasn’t going to let this disease stop him from telling these amazing stories and showing his art in the prime of his life," Henderson said.
Nyong'o reveals to THR that while she had known Boseman was sick, she didn't know that he was terminally ill. So when she learned of his death in a text from Viola Davis, she was suitably shaken.
"I couldn't believe it. I was paralyzed," she says, adding that for many of the Black Panther cast and crew, Boseman had been much more than a colleague; he had been a kind of spiritual anchor. "He had an aura," Nyong'o says. "He was the leader, and we were all good with it."
"He affected how I move in the world," she adds. "But that's the thing about Chadwick. Chadwick wasn't trying to have everyone be like him. What he inspired was you to be your best self. So how I'm going to lead a set is nowhere near -- I'm not that person. I'm not Chadwick at all. I'll never be."
With Boseman's untimely death, the question of how Marvel would move forward with the already-announced sequel to 2018's blockbuster loomed over the cast and crew, especially director Ryan Coogler.
Nyong'o emphasizes that "[the Black Panther world] revolved around him, it did," and that the sequel's initial script centered on the evolution of Boseman's King T'Challa as a leader.
"The script we wrote before Chadwick passed was very much rooted in T'Challa's perspective," Coogler says to THR, referencing his work with co-writer Joe Robert Cole. "It was a massive movie but also simultaneously a character study that delved deeply into his psyche and situation."
Eventually, that script was transformed to what has become Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Imitating real life, the film is heavily centered on the grieving of Wakanda after the death of their king. The sequel gives fans a look into how Wakanda has operated in the direct aftermath of the universe's five-year "blip" and grapples with the loss of their Black Panther, leaving them seemingly vulnerable in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Although the decision was met with some controversy as fans feared losing T'Challa as a character would be at the expense of the audience, especially Black boys and men who saw themselves in him, Nyong'o says she supports the decision not to recast T'Challa.
"That is not the death of the Black Panther, that's the whole point," she notes. "It's laying to rest [T'Challa] and allowing for real life to inform the story of the movies. I know that there are all sorts of reasons why people want him to be recast, but I don't have the patience. I don't have the presence of mind, or I don't have the objectivity to argue with that. I don't. I'm very biased."
Admittedly, Nyong'o says she had a hard time imagining what a Black Panther sequel could be without Boseman. "Even just talking about Black Panther in the midst of still grieving Chadwick, it was really complicated emotionally to do," she shares.
But Coogler and Cole's vision to include Wakanda's mourning as a central plot point moved her immensely. "Ryan wrote something that so honored the truth of what every one of us was feeling, those of us who knew Chadwick," she says. "He created something that could honor that and carry the story forward. By the end, I was weeping."
Nyong'o is joined by a bevy of returning stars in Wakanda Forever, including Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda, Letitia Wright as Princess Shuri, Winston Duke as warrior leader M'Baku and Danai Gurira and Florence Kasumba as the Dora Milaje leader Okoye and member Ayo.
Tenoch Huerta makes his MCU debut as Namor, the powerful ruler of the underwater kingdom of Talocan who butts heads with the Wakandans over his "disturbing" plan to thwart a global threat.
Dominique Thorne also makes her debut as Riri Williams alongside Michaela Coel as Aneka, Mabel Cadena as Namora and Alex Livinalli as Attuma.
"Something about the alchemy that Ryan Coogler puts together, and I think it starts at the top, right?" Nyong’o said of the family Coogler has created through his Black Panther casting. "He sets a certain tone, certain culture on set, that it's all-hands-on-deck. It's teamwork, it's familial, it's intimate. And you go kinda through the fire together, and Lord, there were fires. So, it brings us all together."
"And then to see the fruits of our labor up there, and they're bigger than any of us -- we are all little, little pieces of the puzzle, but then to see it all together, it's very, very moving," she continued. "And to see what it means to an audience. There's something visceral about this particular story that brings us to tears."
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will premiere in theaters on Nov. 11, 2022.