How Black Panther's Ryan Coogler and Danai Gurira rose to the challenge of Wakanda Forever after Chadwick Boseman's loss

(From left) Martin Freeman, Florence Kasumba, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Ryan Coogler, Lupita Nyong’o, and Tenoch Huerta Mejía attend the European Premiere of Disney and Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in Leicester Square in London on Thursday 3rd November 2022
(From left) Martin Freeman, Florence Kasumba, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Ryan Coogler, Lupita Nyong’o, and Tenoch Huerta Mejía attend the European Premiere of Disney and Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in Leicester Square in London on Thursday 3rd November 2022

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever lands in theaters on November 11 with a lot of expectations, and one very big question: How do you follow up one of the most successful Marvel superhero movies of all time, even with co-writer and director Ryan Coogler at the helm, after the tragic and untimely passing of the first film’s star, Chadwick Boseman?

Audiences will find out the answer in short order, but even the filmmakers struggled with the responsibility of carrying forward the mantle of the character Boseman so skillfully played.

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“Okoye considers her role very, very vital to the nation and takes her responsibility so seriously,” explained Danai Gurira, who reprises her role as Wakanda’s military general, and the leader of the Dora Milaje. “In her mind, she is shouldering the nation. She has to protect it. She has to protect the members of the royal family that are remaining. She has to keep it secure. Wakanda is considered compromised because of the loss of Black Panther—so there’s a lot that she’s shouldering, regardless if there is a Black Panther or not.”

“Shouldering a lot”

Okoye is indisputably one of the country’s greatest warriors, making her a more than worthy candidate to don the Black Panther suit. But Gurira told The A.V. Club that the character wrestles with more than the possibility of becoming a superhero ahead of the events of Wakanda Forever. “She has to shoulder a great deal—even when he’s there, she’s still shouldering a lot of work,” Guirira said. “So without him, that loss is so devastating, but it makes her feel her role is even more crucial at this moment. I don’t think she thinks to shift into anything else.”

Danai Gurira as Okoye in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Danai Gurira as Okoye in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Success breeds opportunity, but it also breeds bigger challenges. As the sequel begins, Wakanda faces an adversary in the Talokan people, an underwater nation whose leader, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), plans to start a war with the Wakandans in retaliation against the landlocked nations that have plundered Namor’s natural resources.

This gave Coogler a chance to portray not just Wakanda in greater depth and dimension, but introduce the Talokans, whose world, and culture, was inspired by the history of the ancient Mayans. “We wanted to go deeper with Wakanda, deeper with the characters, deeper into the country physically, seeing new territories,” Coogler said.

“We wanted to open up the scope—not just the visual scope, hopefully we did that too—but the cultural scope. To take a deep dive into another culture, and juxtapose how these cultures are the same, and how are they different, how they view the world, and how they view each other, that was what we were really excited about,” he continued. “But we knew it would be challenging. It would be a complicated plane to land.”

Lean into the new cast members

Coogler had the help of new cast members like Alex Livinalli and Mabel Cadena, who play Namor’s countrymen Attuma and Namora, respectively. Livinalli said that absorbing the totality of the Talokan culture began with the language, which was especially difficult to master since no one speaks it any longer.

“A very critical and important point was getting the language right, making sure that every sound is right,” Livinalli said. “It was a challenge, especially once we started performing it on the day. If I tell you the sky is blue, it’s a very simple sentence, right? But if you translate that to Mayan, it’s quite a statement. So a lot of the dialogue had to be changed on the spot just to fit [the] sync of the scene.”

(From left): Alex Livinalli as Attuma and Mabel Cadena as Namora in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
(From left): Alex Livinalli as Attuma and Mabel Cadena as Namora in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Even so, Livinalli indicated that the extensive preparation they did made that process much easier. “We were able to do that by months of training with the previous dialogue and then pick it up right there. So that was a very key point, just making sure that we represent this language to the best of our abilities—which we did.”

Livinalli’s co-star, Cadena, further detailed the training and prep work that they endured for the film. “When I started the movie, I spoke with Ryan and I was like, hey, I need training every day because I need to do my own stunts,” she insisted. “So the whole movie I did everything, except the last [stunt] was like, okay, I can’t do this. But we spent one year training physical, mental. I was learning English and Mayan.”

Take a really deep breath

The fact that the Talokans lived—and breathed—underwater meant the actors had to learning how to endure long stretches while holding their breaths. “We needed to hold our breath underwater, so they taught us a technique [to do that].” Livinalli complimented his co-star Cadena’s aptitude for this particular skill. “She has the record! No one came close to her,” he said. When pressed, Cadena revealed she could hold her breath for “six minutes and a half. It was really hard,” she admitted. “But to me, at the end, it was beautiful. That’s an amazing experience, because you need to really focus your mind and be like a meditation all the time for the work underwater.”


Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever | Official Teaser

As he shepherded the film to completion, Coogler served the film’s many needs, building on the precedent of the first movie and expanding its sophistication and complexity to deliver a culturally, politically, and philosophically complex next chapter. Of course, he also had to provide the kinds of thrills that audiences expect from a superhero movie, as well as a continuation of the historic Black Panther saga.

Coogler said his work became a natural extension of what he’d already accomplished, in his effort to recapture—and hopefully deepen—the magic he and his collaborators conjured four years ago. “What we did in the first one, or I would say that’s what we tried to do at least, was navigate some pretty complicated themes, to open ourselves up to the conversation while hitting the necessary beats. So somebody could go, ‘Hey, man, one ticket to Black Panther,’ and they could be going to see something that discusses global politics, cultural specificity, and they could come out like, yeah, I got what I wanted.”

“We [also] want it so somebody can say, I want to see some cool superhero action. I want to see things explode,” he continued with a laugh. “Hopefully those two people can watch the same movie and get what they want out of it. So the expectation for this is the same. And we were aware of it. All films have that contract that they’ve got to fulfill with the intended audience. And we just want to meet the audience where they are—but also push them, and maybe give them something that they didn’t know that they wanted.”

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