Few Marvel movies have been as highly anticipated as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The first Black Panther film, released in 2018, was the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and the film’s Black representation in a genre that is historically overwhelmingly white inspired fans worldwide. Wakanda Forever, which was released in theaters on Nov. 11, is coming up against a unique challenge, however — the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed the Black Panther himself, aka King T’Challa. So how is T’Challa’s death explained in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever? It seems like in this case, Marvel was taking cues from the real world. Spoiler warning: Spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever follow.
The story of T’Challa’s death is inextricably linked to Boseman’s own. Boseman, who was set to appear as Black Panther again in the sequel, passed away suddenly on Aug. 28, 2020. According to the statement released on Boseman’s Twitter by his family when he died, Boseman was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, which eventually progressed to stage IV. He kept the knowledge of his illness private from most non-family members, including all people involved with the making of Black Panther, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This meant his death at 43 years old was a shock to everyone, from Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios president and producer, to Ryan Coogler, director of the Black Panther films.
This left Black Panther’s cast and crew in a tough situation: They had been planning for a sequel since 2018, and the death of the central hero meant some major reshuffling was in order. But where Marvel might ordinarily recast a role (which they’ve done in the past, like with Hulk actor Mark Ruffalo, who replaced Edward Norton), Boseman’s legacy as the first Black superhero to get his own big-budget Hollywood blockbuster seemed too great for anyone else to fill his shoes as T’Challa. Luckily for Marvel, the comics already set up a successor for Black Panther in T’Challa’s younger sister, Shuri (played by Letitia Wright), something fans have been catching onto since the release of Wakanda Forever’s trailer.
With the film now centering on Shuri, who had a close relationship with her older brother T’Challa, the loss of T’Challa becomes that much more devastating. The movie opens with Shuri in her lab, trying — and failing — to save T’Challa from death. We never actually see T’Challa or hear how he reached such a critical point, but a later scene in the movie shows broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper, appearing in a cameo as himself, reporting on T’Challa’s death due to an “undisclosed illness.” The news of his death seems to shock most characters in the movie, as did Boseman’s death in real life. Marvel may have planned T’Challa’s death to mirror Boseman’s reality as a tribute to him.
There are also references throughout Wakanda Forever to T’Challa having “suffered in silence,” much like Boseman, who continued his work as an actor after his diagnosis. The final reference to T’Challa’s death happens in the mid-credits scene, where T’Challa’s secret son (also named T’Challa, but with the Haitian name Toussaint) is revealed.
Nakia, T’Challa’s main love interest played by Luptia Nyong’o, reveals the family had prepared for T’Challa’s death and it was his wish for Nakia and Toussaint not to attend his funeral, which is shown at the beginning of Wakanda Forever. Shuri was the only member of the family who didn’t know about Toussaint, whom T’Challa wanted to be raised in Haiti to keep him away from the pressure of the throne. Similarly, Boseman’s family were the only people who knew the true extent of his illness when it came time to reveal it to the rest of the world.
Right before the credits roll, an intertitle appears dedicating the movie to Boseman. It’s clear that, even down to the details of T’Challa’s death, the Black Panther cast and crew want to uplift Boseman’s legacy while moving forward in the franchise without him.