LOS ANGELES – Letitia Wright burst onto the scene in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as King T’Challa’s hilarious younger sister in the 2018 blockbuster Black Panther. But in the new sequel, the actor’s usual easygoing personality delivers a more serious tone while dealing with grief.
Wright’s character takes center stage as Shuri, who ventures into womanhood after the death of T’Challa. She will wear the iconic Black Panther coat in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which hits theaters on Friday. Chadwick Boseman, who played T’Challa, died in August 2020.
Between the Panther films, Wright took on a few film projects that honed her dramatic acting skills.
“I’m always trying to do things outside of the box that people wouldn’t expect,” said Wright, who starred in dramas The Silent Twins and Aisha. She also stars in Surrounded, out next year. The actor said each of these projects challenged her enough to “challenge me as an artist.”
“Obviously that kept me growing,” said the actor, whose Shuri character also appeared in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame as Wakanda’s princess and chief scientist. “We know Shuri as the fun, lively sister from the first film. … But in the film, we really followed that journey of femininity for her.”
Wright credits director Ryan Coogler with advancing Shuri’s maturation in his rewritten screenplay following Boseman’s unexpected death from colon cancer. The director carried an even heavier burden of delivering a strong screenplay — especially after Black Panther broke box office records, grossed $700 million domestically during its theatrical run, and became the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
For the Black Panther follow-up, Coogler had come up with a script centered around T’Challa grieving the time lost after Thanos’ snap in Avengers: Infinity War, which caused a five-year blip. But after Boseman’s death, Coogler and filmmaker Joe Robert Cole returned to the drawing board and worked out a screenplay that dealt more with the concept of Wakanda’s grief after T’Challa’s death.
Coogler said Boseman’s family signed off on the “respectful” death of his character in Wakanda Forever. In the new film, the Wakandans are transported to a special place to protect their nation without T’Challa from a new nemesis, Namor, a submarine Talocan leader who possesses extraordinary mutant-like abilities and can fly with the help of tiny wings on his ankles. Namor is played by Tenoch Huert.
“This script grew out of the truth in our lives that we lost Chadwick Boseman,” said Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Nakia, a war spy and T’Challa’s lover. She said the characters dealt with T’Challa’s loss differently in the film.
“For me personally, I was relieved that we were allowed to speak our truth,” said Nyong’o. “We need to express the sadness we felt and use it meaningfully.”
Wright and Nyong’o said they used their grief over Boseman to fuel their performances, while Coogler said his sad memory of the late actor helped motivate him through his writing and directing process. The director said several photos of Boseman were posted on set, and that a prop master placed a shield and spear in Coogler’s trailer, which T’Challa held during a duel with Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger at Warrior Falls in “Black Panther.” .
Before filming the project, the entire cast – including the newcomers – visited Boseman’s burial site. It became a connecting moment.
“We tried to make a film to honor Chadwick’s legacy,” Huerta said. “The film is about grief. It happened at the same time as reality. They were able to incorporate what was happening in real life into fiction. Art is a kind of therapy. It has helped us deal with reality and things that we cannot understand.”
The cast leaned on each other throughout the filming process, which had several setbacks and obstacles. Production took longer than expected after Wright was injured while filming a stunt and several cast and crew members tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Wright was attacked for sharing an anti-vaccination video and Coogler was briefly handcuffed by Atlanta police after he was mistaken for a bank robber earlier in the year.
“We certainly had bumps along the way, but people pulled together,” said Nate Moore, vice president of production and development at Marvel Studios. He was producer on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Eternals and executive producer on Black Panther.
Moore said the experience of shooting “Wakanda Forever” was the most difficult, but he said the entire cast and crew showed resilience in the face of adversity.
“They didn’t pull apart,” Moore said. “If it was another filmmaker who wasn’t on such good terms with everyone, we would have seen a lot more separation from the crew, which we didn’t really do. The cast could have been frustrated with the stopping and starting we were forced to do, but they didn’t. They believe in what this film is about and in Ryan’s vision. As hard as it was, we had each other.”
Nyong’o said the cast members comforted each other’s grief for Boseman as they try to advance the Kingdom of Wakanda.
“It was joyful and sometimes it was tough,” she said. “But there was also a lot of hilarity because we had so many powerful, joyful memories of Chadwick to share.”
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