I’ve lost count of the number of times I cried at the trailer for Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. There’s an inescapable and profound wave of emotions it inhabits.
As expected, there was plenty of hype and excitement surrounding Marvel’s latest round of announcements at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Ryan Coogler’s sequel is serving as the closing chapter to Marvel’s Phase Four and paving the way toward the Multiverse saga. But that anticipation also comes at a devastating price, knowing the actor who should be ushering Marvel into its next era is no longer with us.
The Black community is feeling the weight of those reopened wounds. It has been two years since Chadwick Boseman’s shocking death from cancer, a debilitating illness he fought in silence and used whatever time he had left to advocate, elevate, and excel through his performances.
Yet his passing remains a tragedy many of us remember like it was yesterday. Despite having never met the man, his death is akin to losing a brother or a close friend. It’s an insurmountable feeling comparable to how I felt when my mother passed in 2016.
With death, it observes a sensory overload of helplessness, not knowing how to wrestle with the aftermath. The trailer, embodying a sombre mixture of loss and heartache, only echoes how painful that absence is. Judging by the reactions on social media, the responses are emotionally raw.
It’s hard to find the right words when grief constantly produces a river of tears. How do you sum up a career that had many more stories to tell? How do you describe someone who played T’Challa with an empowering grace for an entire generation of Black fans who looked up to him as their hero? Where fans celebrated their heritage by dressing in their African attire and mobilised communities to ensure young kids got to see the icon on the big screen?
Black Panther was no ordinary film; it holds a special place in our hearts for the immense pride and joy it brought, something rarely seen culturally with a film and yet to be repeated on that scale. When calls for representation took on a greater consciousness, Chadwick’s real-life embodiment and desire to see authenticity in Black characters transcended beyond normal popular culture. The unfortunate circumstance is knowing that any path forward with Black Panther will never be the same again.
There are no easy answers for this, nor will this article pretend it will provide one. Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramona’s “Have I not given everything?” cuts like a knife at the state of Black lives, once again having to find the strength and courage to process the never-ending cycle of pain and trauma. But if the trailer gave us any indication of its final product, Wakanda Forever will serve as Chadwick’s tribute while providing something we collectively need–healing.
Through the most difficult times, the most powerful art is created. That sentiment seemed to resonate as some of the cast and its director watched the trailer for the first time in front of the Hall H crowd. They hugged each other in solidarity. The director shared anecdotes about Chadwick’s spirit being felt on set.
Danai Gurira’s interview in Variety mentioned how newcomers Michaela Coel and Dominique Thorne became their support networks during the production. And despite the dogged rumours of on-set troubles with cast and production delays, it’s easy to forget the human side of mourning.
Everyone is riding out their storms, to which there are no guidebooks.
The public display of vulnerability highlights how much we’ve yet to collectively grieve from Chadwick’s passing. His death came during the heights of the pandemic, leaving us to express our feelings in isolation, away from our friends, families, and loved ones. There hasn’t been a moment where the community has come together in a manner to remember him properly.
The Oscars tried back in 2021, botching up that attempt by predicting Chadwick winning Best Actor for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (the award ended up in Anthony Hopkins’ hands for The Father). Public statues have been erected and murals, such as one in Brixton, South London, have been painted, but they’ve been pockets of remembrance—until now.
In recent years, Hollywood has faced the difficult challenge of how to memorialise actors while continuing a series. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker used previously filmed footage and VFX of Carrie Fisher from The Force Awakens, writing scenes to accommodate her presence.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife opted for a mixture of body doubles and a digital creation of Harold Ramis. But in both cases, the results have been discordant, leaving us all wondering if this is a suitable way of respecting the dead. Which is why I can’t imagine Wakanda Forever going down those routes.
I understand the cries from the #RecastTChalla movement. T’Challa is bigger than one man. T’Challa’s journey is blessed with infinite stories waiting to be told. Actors have stepped into the roles of other iconic superheroes such as Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man and defined their heroism by the qualities they’ve brought to the table.
But that commentary is made on the assumption that Black Panther sits on the same pedestal as its comic book counterparts. A time will come when a new actor will continue T’Challa’s story, perhaps in another multiverse as the timeline suggests, where they are given the time and space to craft the role as their own. But for now, the comfort we desperately seek is not in fast replacement. It is to acknowledge its past to embrace its future.
Wakanda Forever will not solely be about mourning. As the trailer illustrates, it continues to strive forward in representing the culture. As Shuri (Letitia Wright) leads a procession, it serves as a contrast to westernised traditions of funerals. Africans dress in white, symbolising rebirth where our loved ones are reborn into the new world.
The grief becomes a celebration of life by those who knew them best. There will be opportunities for joy, love, and humour because life is not absent from those emotions. Namor (Tenoch Huerta) will add the necessary nuance and complexity that will further explore Wakanda’s place in the world, and what it means for those assigned to safeguard its future.
This is not unfamiliar territory for Coogler. His second film, Creed, shows that he is a filmmaker who understands the weight of legacy. His work understands the bridge between the old and new, by entrusting faith to those who can shape the future as their own.
That assuredness placed in Coogler’s hands brings Wakanda’s female contingent, including the Dora Milaje and the introduction of Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), into greater focus and prominence—an area which Chadwick helped amplify. If there were any hints of exploitation at the expense of Chadwick and his family, Wakanda Forever simply wouldn’t exist.
Wakanda Forever will be a difficult watch, something we may not be ready to emotionally face come November. But it is something we will all need, whether we want to admit it or not. Like any tragedy, the solace we seek may not give us all the answers we want. That is the fallacy and cruelty of life.
But the opportunity to celebrate Chadwick’s legacy together is a fitting story we can all embrace, and the trailer—arguably Marvel’s best—goes some way in restoring a faith that was lost after his death. As comfort is found in its poignant song choices, like Tem’s cover of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry, when the dust finally settles, ‘everything is gonna be alright.’