By the end of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the Black Panther has returned to Wakanda. Though Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) was initially unable to recreate the Heart-Shaped Herb, after lots of trial and error (and due in part to a gift from Namor), she is able to crack the genetic code for it. Shuri prints a new version of it in her lab, and seeing that it glows, decides to ingest the flower and subsequently becomes the next Black Panther herself, filling the huge hole left by the passing of her older brother, T’Challa.
It’s not a decision that Shuri makes lightly on-screen, and off-screen the decision carried with it the same amount of weight, considering the real-life passing of Chadwick Boseman, who played the former Black Panther and King of Wakanda. The creative team behind the movie didn’t want the next Black Panther to feel rushed or forced in any way, and eventually decided that Shuri was the best, and most logical, choice to carry on the mantle.
In very early conversations, the creative team discussed the possibility of passing the mantle to one of the many other characters in the Black Panther world, but as producer Nate Moore explains, that would have felt “artificial.”
“[Shuri] just felt like the most organic storytelling choice,” he explains. “We had a performer that we knew could carry that if she agreed to do it. We didn’t really explore other options that thoroughly because this just felt like the right thing to do.”
Moore continues, “Letitia wanted and wants to do right by this franchise.” When the call came that she was going to become the next Black Panther, she was initially taken aback at the tall request. However, she quickly understood just how important it was for her, and her character, to take on the mantle.
“She understood A, what it means to people generally, and B, I think what this franchise meant to Chadwick, as an artist, and as a performer,” Moore adds. “While I’m not sure that she ever envisioned herself donning the mantle and carrying this film, she was 100% game. I think that’s a credit to her and to her spirit. To come to her and say, hey, we want to continue this franchise, and we think you’re the right person to be at the center of it was a big ask. But she was game for it and has never blanched from that responsibility as a storyteller.”
Writer/director Ryan Coogler echoes the same sentiment, noting that Shuri, along with Wright, is the perfect person to take on this new role. “It’s hard to say it was obvious because Chad’s passing was so unexpected, but it was a choice that made a lot of sense. As we realized what the [theme] was and when you talk about T’Challa passing, who would be the most affected by that? It became clear that Shuri should be the nexus of our movie.”
Coogler adds that for Shuri, she’s only ever known a world with T’Challa as the Black Panther, so the thought of taking on the mantle is never one she’s considered — and even as the movie progresses, it’s clear that for her recreating the Heart-Shaped Herb is not at the forefront of her mind. She is adamant about advancing Wakanda’s technology, not necessarily Wakanda’s long-time protector. This created a new underlying theme for the movie, with Shuri constantly wrestling with the idea of her tried and tried and true science versus the spiritual rituals of those that came before her. This, of course, includes the mantle of Black Panther, something she scoffs at early on in the film when Queen Ramonda asks if she’s made any progress on the herb.
Coogler also notes that, for Shuri, “She always imagined, my brother will be the Black Panther and then when he’s too old to be a Black Panther, I’ll be too old to be a Black Panther. It’s never something that was on her mind to have to do. We thought that would [make her] the most interesting character to actually do it.”
As for Wright, she found out the new direction of the movie a few months after Boseman’s passing, when she was still very much coping with his sudden loss. She admits that it was “difficult to imagine [the movie] without him,” but she was willing to carry on the franchise in whatever way possible since she knew that’s what Boseman would want.
“You’ve got to keep inspiring people, you have to move forward,” Wright says. “When Ryan gave me that call, it was tough. He slowly, gently explained to me his intention of how we can honor Chad in this film and how we can honor what was created by us as a family.”
However, the whole experience for her was bittersweet, since Boseman wasn’t there to show her the way, explaining that it deeply saddened her that she “didn’t have my brother to pass the torch to me.”
“I had to process that and pray and ask him if it’s okay for me to do it,” she recalls. “Once I felt at peace, that it was the right thing, I accepted. I said to Ryan I’ll do my best. I made a commitment. I was like I’ll honor God and I’ll honor Chad with Shuri in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Then it was just a process of going through this and I’m praying that we make him proud.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing exclusively in theaters.
By Rachel Paige