Since Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing in August, fans have been largely respectful of his untouchable legacy and his memory. It was a death that sent castmates and colleagues spinning, seeing as how most of them hadn’t even known he’d been sick; the private Boseman had kept the news of his pancreatic cancer to himself. At the time, it was reported Marvel hadn’t even started thinking about how to move forward with Black Panther 2, still processing their grief. “We’re just still mourning Chad, so it’s not something I even want to think about,” said Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri, younger sister to Boseman’s T’Challa.
But life moves on, and Marvel will inevitably have to figure out how to tackle the sequel without its titular character. Boseman’s passing required an entirely new story to be written. It remained a question of how, however. Did they have enough footage of Boseman from previous Marvel films to craft a storyline for him, similar to what was done with the late Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? Would they write him out completely and address his absence? Would Shuri then take up the Black Panther mantle in her brother’s stead? Would they use a digital double of him, as we’ve seen in instances like Rogue One using a digital recreation of the late Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin.
The last option was one most fans almost immediately shot down, and rightfully so. Now, longtime Marvel producer Victoria Alonso has stated emphatically that is not an option the studio will consider, seeing it as disrespectful to Boseman to try to replace him. Speaking to Clarin, she explained a digital double simply would not happen. “No. There’s only one Chadwick, and he’s not with us,” Alonso said. “Our king, unfortunately, has died in real life, not just in fiction, and we are taking a little time to see how we return to history and what we do to honor this chapter of what has happened to us that was so unexpected, so painful, so terrible, really.”
It’s good the studio feels this way, though not entirely surprising. We tend to think of studios as money-hungry entities who will make anything if they think it will turn a profit. But Marvel, despite being the most successful studio in the world, or perhaps because of it, tends to care about the relationships it has with its talent and has a history of trying to do right when it can. As Alonso pointed out, the movie industry can be a ruthless one, with productions often moving on quickly after a tragedy or death. Such is not the case with Marvel, which is taking its time figuring out the next steps:
“Because Chadwick was not only a wonder … but it also seems to me that as a character what he did elevated us as a company, and has left his moment in history. I know that sometimes two months go by or three months go by in production and one says, already, it was a long time. But it is not a long time, we have to think carefully about what we are going to do, and how, and think about how we are going to honor the franchise.”
At the moment, the most likely option appears to have Shuri become the new Black Panther. It’s also not out of the question for her to become the franchise lead but under a different superhero name, retiring the Black Panther mantle like a sports team retiring a star’s jersey. In any case, writer-director Ryan Coogler has his work cut out for him, entirely reenvisioning and rewriting a story he’d once planned for Chadwick.
“I haven’t grieved a loss this acute before. I spent the last year preparing, imagining, and writing words for him to say, that we weren’t destined to see,” Coogler wrote in a statement after Boseman’s death. “It leaves me broken knowing that I won’t be able to watch another close-up of him in the monitor again or walk up to him and ask for another take.”
It may take a while, but trust that Marvel and everyone involved with the sequel will figure out the proper way to honor their fallen king.