Following the death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman in 2020, Marvel Studios made the decision not to recast his role of T’Challa in the Oscar-winning 2018 superhero film’s new sequel. As a result, the studio considered several other characters, including M’Baku and Nakia, to become the new titular character in the follow-up, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which is now playing in theaters.
Following Boseman’s death, Marvel Studios was left pondering the future of Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) during the sequel’s development. This led to various theories about who Black Panther: Wakanda Forever could have take over the titular role. It was eventually confirmed that Shuri is the new Black Panther in the movie’s story.
As part of a new interview with Rolling Stone, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever‘s co-writer, Joe Robert Cole, confirmed that Winston Duke’s M’Baku and Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia were initially considered to be the MCU’s new Black Panther. When asked if M’Baku could have become the character, the scribe said, “M’Baku certainly was someone that got kicked around a little bit.” He added that Nakia’s name also “got kicked around for sure.”
Shuri, who’s played by Letitia Wright, permanently took over the mantle as Black Panther in Wakanda Forever, as she became the eponymous superhero in the comics. She also temporarily took over the role in the film series when T’Challa fell into a coma.
There wasn’t a guarantee that Shuri would take over, however. The MCU frequently changes aspects of stories and characters from the comics for their movie adaptations.
But Shuri being the MCU’s new Black Panther fit perfectly with Wakanda Forever‘s story. The film led her through a journey of grief that made her think the mantle should never come back to her, as she wasn’t sure if she could take on the responsibility of protecting Wakanda.
M’Baku and Nakia could still potentially become Black Panther in future movie entries in the MCU. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever‘s ending shows M’Baku becoming the king of Wakanda, while Nakia is living in Haiti with her and T’Challa’s son, Toussaint. The film showed that Shuri regrew the heart-shaped herb, allowing others to become Black Panther.
For the follow-up’s entire promotional tour, its co-writer-director, Ryan Coogler, didn’t address what the original script for the long-awaited feature looked like before Boseman’s death. The filmmaker eventually shared that grief was still a major theme in the original story, as the Academy Award-nominated actor’s character was forced to deal with the pain of losing five years on Earth, as he was a victim of Thanos’s snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War.
But following the performer’s death, the Black Panther sequel instead shows how the king’s fellow Wakandans must instead deal with the pain of losing T’Challa. But the king’s spirit lives on, as the movie’s midcredits scene reveals that Nakia and the late superhero had a young son, who’s also named T’Challa. But he’s now going by the name Touissant in Haiti, where he’s now living with his mother.
Coogler planned for T’Challa to become a father in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever all along, even before Boseman’s death. That’s why the king would have mourned the years he lost on Earth in the film’s original script.
“Honestly that’s what the [original] script was about,” Coogler said about what kind of deliberations went into giving T’Challa and Nakia a son. “It was about T’Challa becoming a father. So there was no deliberation. That was the movie we were making. And then [Boseman died], and we shifted it a bit.”
Nate Moore, who served as a producer on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, also chimed in on the first version of the script: “In Ryan’s mind, he wanted to explore the notion of T’Challa facing fatherhood for the first time. So it wasn’t a reaction to anything… It was a story idea that was sort of interesting. And [then when Boseman] passed, it didn’t seem appropriate to abandon that just for that reason.
“It certainly also isn’t meant to say, ‘Oh hey, get ready for the new kid.’ It’s more like, ‘Oh, hey, what an interesting story point. And I think it really dimensionalizes Nakia’s relationship with the man, and shows you the depth of their commitment to each other, which I think is kind of powerful,” Moore added.0.
The producer added that he feels it’s more respectful to Boseman to give T’Challa and Nakia a son with the king’s name, instead of recasting his role of T’Challa. “I think the end of the movie isn’t [saying] get ready for the next one, it’s just, ‘Hey, there is a T’Challa. It’s not the one we all know and lost.’ And I think it’s more respectful to the loss for that reason.”
In terms of making Shuri the next Black Panther, Moore said: “It was the only conversation we had. It’s interesting, because we’re aware of conversations online. But I’m also a big comic fan.
“If you think about from publishing, this was a little inevitable. And when you think about it narratively, with the story we were telling, she is the most affected by T’Challa’s passing. And she maybe is the only one with the tools to bring the Black Panther mantle back, because if you remember the first film, Killmonger had destroyed all the heart-shaped herb anyway,” Moore continued.
“So narratively it made sense. And from a purist’s standpoint, I think it’s really the only choice. Calls for M’Baku or Okoye seemed a bit like throwing darts at a dartboard for me… And Letitia Wright nails it. And Shuri’s transition from where she starts to where she ends in this film tells the story of why she should be Black Panther,” the producer concluded.