For the cast and filmmakers of Black Panther, returning to Wakanda was an emotional affair. When Ryan Coogler's superhero epic hit theaters in 2018, it became an instant sensation, demolishing box office records, raking in Oscar nominations, and shattering myths about Black representation on screen. A sequel was all but guaranteed, and it wasn't long before Marvel Studios gave the official green light, with Coogler starting to sketch out plans for a new script.
But when it came time for the cast to reassemble, they found themselves facing unimaginable challenges. For one, how do you follow one of the most beloved superhero movies of all time? And how do you do it after losing your leading man, Chadwick Boseman, who died in 2020 after a private battle with colon cancer?
The result is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a stunning sequel that pays tribute to its late star while also forging new paths for the franchise. Ahead of the film's Nov. 11 release, Coogler and the cast gathered for EW's Around the Table video series, opening up about the grief and joy of crafting the new film. Coogler joined returning stars Letitia Wright (Shuri), Lupita Nyong'o (Nakia), and Danai Gurira (Okoye), along with newcomers Tenoch Huerta (Namor), Mabel Cadena (Namora), and Alex Livinalli (Attuma), and together, they shared a wide-ranging conversation about returning to Wakanda — from honoring Boseman to diving deep with the underwater-set sequel.
Eli Adé/Marvel Studios Danai Gurira as Okoye and Letitia Wright as Shuri in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'
Grief and loss colors much of Wakanda Forever, which finds the nation of Wakanda mourning the death of its late king T'Challa (Boseman). But Coogler reveals that despite major overhauls after Boseman's death, much of the film is still true to his early drafts — like the introduction of the charismatic antagonist Namor, played by Mexican actor Huerta. In fact, the writer-director says, he remembers early conversations with Boseman about the sequel and how the actor couldn't wait to see Namor and the underwater world of Talokan come to life
"I had spoken with Chad [Boseman] about that aspect of the script, and he was really excited," Coogler says. "That was something he was fired up about. I remember we were at a restaurant in Los Feliz the first time we talked about possibly having indigenous American representation in the film. He got the biggest smile, like, 'They're never going to see this coming. It's awesome.'"
The cast say they leaned heavily on each other on set, and Coogler also praised his stars for their own "unique superpowers," some of which he wrote into the story. Nyong'o, for example, is Kenyan-Mexican and was born in Mexico City, so she relished scenes where her character Nakia got to speak in Spanish. "For me, this film represents different sides of my heritage," she explains. "Being born in Mexico and having that Mesoamerican culture represented, it's something that's very close to me."
The film also spends plenty of time under the sea in Namor's lavish kingdom of Talokan, and Gurira was particularly excited to shoot scenes in the water — especially since she spent many years as a competitive swimmer herself. "I wanted to swim more!" the actress says. Coogler remembers Gurira cornering him early in the production, begging him for more underwater scenes, and when they finally started filming in a specially constructed pool, she literally swam laps around her castmates.
"She was so happy," Coogler remembers with a laugh. "She was smiling from ear to ear. She was like, 'I get to swim today!' I was telling the cameraman, 'Yo, be ready, bro. Back up. She's gonna come right at you like a shark.'"
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters Nov. 11. Watch EW's full Around the Table interview above.