Marvel Comics first introduced its audiences to Black Panther in “Fantastic Four Vol. 1” Issue 52, published in 1966, and the character (brought to the pages by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) was soon firmly established as a fan favorite that crossed racial and cultural lines. After being welcomed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War, the young African prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), aka Black Panther, must now take on the mantle of king and superhero, as he fights to protect the technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda and its people.
At a conference at the film’s Los Angeles press junket, co-stars Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o (“Nakia”), Danai Gurira (“Okoye”) and Letitia Wright (“Shuri”), along with director Ryan Coogler and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, talked about why Boseman was Marvel’s only choice for Black Panther, balancing making a blockbuster with having something meaningful to say, exploring very relevant social themes, the comic books they pulled from, the powerful women of Wakanda, why the choice was made for Black Panther to speak with an African accent, and what they hope little girls walk away with, after seeing this film.
Question: Chadwick, when you got the call to play Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, did you know that you’d be doing this film?
CHADWICK BOSEMAN: The initial phone call from Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito, Nate Moore and the Russo Brothers was one where they essentially said, “We want to bring your character into the Marvel Comic Universe, as a stand-alone, but this is the best way to introduce him, in Civil War.” So, I was aware of it. When I was shooting Civil War, I was not aware that other people weren’t aware that this was going to happen because it was at the forefront of my mind. So, I’m sorry that you didn’t know that, but at the same time, I love the fact that it was a surprise to people.
Kevin, why did you want Chadwick Boseman for Black Panther?
KEVIN FEIGE: I think you hear people say this all the time, when you’re in a setting like this, but he was the only choice. It may not have been this fast, but in my memory, we were sitting around a table, coming up with the story for Civil War, Nate Moore, our executive producer, suggested bringing in Black Panther because we were looking for a third party who wouldn’t necessarily side with Cap or side with Iron Man. And almost instantly, we all said Chadwick. In my memory, although maybe it was the next day, we got him on a speaker phone right then, and he was in the back of a limo in Switzerland.
BOSEMAN: We were in Zurich. I was coming off of the red carpet for Get On Up and my agent was like, “You’ve gotta get on the phone.” The crazy thing is that I didn’t even have international calling on my phone, until that morning. Somebody said, “Hey, get international on your phone and call your mom.” And then, that night, he called.
Ryan, with Black Panther, you walk a line between being a big-budget blockbuster Marvel film and having something really deep and meaningful to say. How did you balance that?
RYAN COOGLER: I grew up loving comic books and pop culture. I loved toys, actions figures, video games, and all of that stuff. When I got older and realized that I wanted to make movies, that’s how I fell in love with internationalism and cinema that left you with something to chew on and think about. I think the best versions of those stories do both things. So, for me, I sat down with Marvel, after speaking with (executive producer) Nate [Moore] over the phone, and I was very honest with Kevin. You think of Marvel like this big, huge studio. It’s the biggest studio in the world right now, but it’s really just Kevin and his two friends. That’s really all it is. It’s these two really smart people that he writes with – Louis D’Esposito and Victoria Alonso – and on this film, it was Nate. They’re all very different from each other, and Kevin is at the head of that. I told him, “I want to make a film that works on every level that your films work on, and I want to make it with these themes.” And he was like, “Great! Let’s go!” I didn’t expect that. But as I got to know these guys, especially specifically Kevin, that’s what he’s all about. He’s all about making something that entertains people and that works, as a piece of entertainment that leaves you with something to think about. He was very encouraging. I was getting notes, while we were working on this, that were about making it more interesting and pushing it.
Kevin, how far did you want to take this while still presenting a lot of very relevant social themes, like isolationism and other societal issues?
FEIGE: For the most part, Ryan wrote this a year and a half to two years ago. This have just happened in the world, which make the film seem more relevant, but there are other things in the film that have been relevant for centuries. The truth of the matter is that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and the whole Marvel bullpen, created Wakanda, T’Challa and Black Panther, and made him a smarter, more accomplished character than any of the other white characters, in the mid 1960s. They had the guts to do that then, and the least we can do is live up to that and allow this story to be told the way it needed 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.