Once the Black Panther, always the Black Panther. In the first episode of Wakanda Forever, Marvel’s official Black Panther podcast, host Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke with Black Panther director Ryan Coogler on how the Marvel film went from potential script to worldwide success. Coogler is returning to direct the upcoming sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and has spoken at length on how the death of star Chadwick Boseman impacted the film and its story of grief. In an emotional interview, Coogler said Boseman was the steward of the franchise and in their last conversation, before he passed, Boseman still had Marvel on his mind.
The Academy Award-nominated actor was 43-years-old when he died from a years-long, and secret, battle with cancer. As T’Challa in Black Panther, Boseman was celebrated for being a Black hero on a big screen, something children said they were desperate to see more of. When describing Boseman’s impact on Black Panther’s success, Rolling Stone‘s David Fear said, “Coogler gives us a singular, spectacular vision of an Afro-futurist nation unto itself; Boseman gives us a human being and a royal hero worthy of leading it.”
In the interview, released Thursday, Coogler said his last conversation with Boseman was only weeks before he died, and days after he finished the first script for the second Black Panther film. In between deep pauses and what sounded like tears, Coogler told Coates that the late actor sounded tired but was still joking—and asked his wife Simone Ledward Boseman to leave the room so he wouldn’t accidentally break his Marvel nondisclosure agreement. The director added that even though he had finished the first version of the script, Boseman wouldn’t read it.
“He said he didn’t wanna read it because he didn’t wanna get in the way of what direction the studio might have, ” Coogler said. “So he was like it’s better for him to read it later. I found out later that he was too tired to read anything. “
Coogler said that when he first found out Boseman had passed, he went through a stage of denial—including calling Denzel Washington and trying to see if the news was a rumor. He also said that he contemplated quitting the second film altogether, an instinct that left him once he began to replay his old memories of Chadwick. It was then that he realized the late actor filmed Black Panther while he was sick, which made some things—like Boseman having incredibly sad days or taking a much longer time to warm back up from water scenes—make sudden sense.
“He was sick when I met him,” Coogler said. “But looking back on it, it’s like, my mans was dying. It’s a shocking thing to realize, and it’s also a thing where it’s like ‘I can’t quit. If he did all that while he was going through that, this is just grief. So we gotta push through.”
In remembering his friend, Coogler said Boseman felt like he was ordained to play the role of T’Challa, an energy he said Boseman brought to the film and helped steward and guide the rest of the cast. The entire cast of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has said the upcoming film is dedicated to their late friend—and Coogler said even as the franchise continues, there’s no way to forget Boseman’s impact.
“He was T’Challa before Civil War in a way, in his mind,” Coogler said. “And I’m sure there’s a lot of actors like that out there like that. But they wasn’t Chad.”