Marvel Studios’ Black Panther is a revolutionary installment the MCU, their long-running superhero franchise. The title character, who symbolized the real-life Black Panther movement in America during the 1960s, has become an iconic figure in the African-American community. And after 50-plus years of spending time building its fanbase in comic books, T’Challa returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his very own film. But the titular film isn’t your traditional superhero offering. It forgoes all those generic tropes of saving the world and focuses on real-world themes like culture, politics, identity, and representation.
Geeks Of Doom had a chance to sit down with their fellow journalists to talk to the cast, Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Michael B. Jordan (Erik Killmonger), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Angela Bassett (Ramonda), Forest Whitaker (Zuri), Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue), Martin Freeman (Everett K Ross), Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi), Winston Duke (M’Baku), and Letitia Wright (Shuri). Director Ryan Coogler and producer Kevin Feige were also present to talk about the upcoming film, how its important to have a character like Black Panther, the timeliness and relevancy, and more. Check out what they had to say here below.
After the film’s red carpet premiere, Coogler said he felt blessed to hear how the film was so well-received by those (me included) who got an early chance to see it. “I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to make the film this way, with this studio, working with Kevin [Feige], and his team, Victoria Alonso and Louis D’Esposito, and Nate Moore,” Coogler said. “It’s just an incredible opportunity. It’s something I never imagined would happen. To be able to work with my mentor, people who I’ve watched, friends that I have made in the process, it was incredible. I had fifty of my family members there from the Bay area talking to the screen.”
“I knew from the moment that I met him when he started to express himself and get to the center of what he wanted to communicate to the world, how he wanted to touch the world was a really powerful thing to see,” Whitaker said. The actor, who plays Zuri, a Wakanadan advisor, and worked with the director on Fruitvale Station, saw something in him that he knew would make him one of the most prominent directors of our time. “Even when he started to talk to me about his ideas at that time, he was in school, I remember thinking if this person is given the right space, he’s going to do something to change our lives in some way. For me, I am just blown away watching his growth and manifest so much importance in socially relevant moments inside of things that we want to sit and watch.”
Jordan agreed. The actor, who plays Erik Killmonger, saw the film for the first time at the premiere and was admittedly nervous because he didn’t know what to expect to see. But when he did see it, he says watching it is indescribable. “Seeing people that look like you on screen, feeling empowered, having those socially relevant themes but in a movie that you want to sit down and watch and enjoy,” Jordan said.”
Coogler grew up as a fan reading comic books and immersing himself in all kinds of pop culture. So with Black Panther, it is hard to overlook or even not explore the political elements in the film, especially since the source material was first published at the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “You think of Marvel, it’s like the biggest studio in the world right now, but it’s really just Kevin [Feige] and his two friends. It’s these two really smart people, Louis D’Esposito and Victoria Alonso, and on this film, it was also Nate [Moore],” Coogler said. “They’re all very different people, and Kevin is kind of at the head of this. I told him, ‘I want to make a film that works on every level that you guys normally work on, and I want to make it with these themes, I kind of had these themes in mind.’ And he was like, ‘Great. Let’s go.’ I didn’t expect that.”
“But as I got to know these guys, specifically Kevin [Feige], it’s what he’s all about,” Coogler said. “He’s all about making something that entertains but leaves you with something to think about. He was very encouraging. I was getting notes when we were working on this like, ‘Make it more specific. Make it more personal.’ It’s real.”
With the state of the comics changing, the film adaptation must also reflect those changes. But for Black Panther, it has been a film that addressed real-world societal issues. “It’s happened with the comics. It’s happened with the movies. Ryan [Coogler] wrote this, for the most part, a year and a half ago or two years ago. So things have happened in the world which makes the film seem more relevant,” Feige said. The Marvel Studios president elaborated that when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created T’Challa and Black Panther, he was one of the more accomplished heroes than any of the white characters in the 1960s. “If they had the guts to do that in the mid-1960s, the least we can do is live up to that and allow this story to be told in the way it needs to be told and not shy away from things that the Marvel founders didn’t shy away from in the height of the Civil Rights era.”
As for the inspiration behind Black Panther, Coogler says he pulled from the Ta-Nehisi Coates and Christopher Priest runs. “You can go through our films, there is pretty much something from every writer that has touched T’Challa’s character in the Black Panther comics,” Coogler said. “From the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby runs to Don Gregor, you know Christopher Priest, Reginald Hudlin, Jonathan Hickman, to Ta-Nehisi Coates to Brian Stelfreeze, they were a big part of it as well. We just kinda grab them all. The character has a long history and has such rich stuff to mine. Each writer left their own mark. Klaue had been around for a long time, and Everett Ross was created by Christopher Priest, and Shuri was created by Reginald Hudlin in that run, so each run gives us something to pull from.”
“We were about to do our scene, and Ryan came up to us and said, ‘You know, I’ve never actually directed two white actors before.’ [laughs] We were both like, ‘Well, yeah, probably not.’ It’s kind of hilarious,” Serkis said. “It’s like, ‘Fuck, that’s tragic and kind of insane and kind of weird.’ It was an incredible experience working with Ryan. He’s one of the most brilliant, wonderful, warm, humble, incredibly clever, articulate, visionary directors.”
“I hated it. I felt bullied,” Freeman joked. “No, yes, I agree. I was joking.”
“It was an incredible experience to be a part of it, and I just think this film is so important. To be a part of something that is so groundbreaking,” Serkis added. “Yes, it should have been made many years ago, but now is the time, now is a brilliant time because things are changing rapidly in every single aspect of filmmaking. So the needle should swing right the other way because we need to really change things.”
Freeman and Coogler both agreed that Ross should not be a “schmuck” or comic relief. In the film, Ross has to find out who is smuggling vibranium out of the country of Wakanda. “I was very pleased when I was reading bits of the script, and then new bits of the script were coming in that were making [Ross] more empathetic, more sympathetic, and a bit more can do,” Freeman said. “Because it’s not Agent Ross’ film by a long way, but he plays his part.” The actor admits there is a sort of ambivalence about Ross because he never makes his intentions clear, but as he works closely with T’Challa, he discovers there’s more to Wakanda than it appears.
Marvel’s Black Panther opens in theaters on February 16, 2018.