The final words of Michael B. Jordan‘s Erik Killmonger in Black Panther was one of the best movie moments of 2018. You remember. The fatally wounded soldier, looking out over glorious Wakanda next to his nemesis T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), saying probably the realest shit you’ll ever hear in a Marvel movie: “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from ships because they knew death was better than bondage.”
But apparently that scene—and, more specifically, that iconic line—was completely different in the film’s original cut. Speaking to Cinemablend, Black Panther editor Michael Shawver revealed that director Ryan Coogler headed into reshoots determined to change the ending for a very specific reason.
With reshoots Ryan wanted to do a new ending, and it’s a whole bigger thing with the scene where Killmonger dies… What we shot originally, and in the script, was Killmonger saying ‘It’s beautiful, but what are you going to do for everybody in the world who can’t see this?’… And it was great. It was powerful, it was awesome, but it was problematic for a few reasons. One, we realized that just as a character, for the journey of T’Challa, he can’t get the answer to the movie and what he needs to do from the villain – like straight-up exactly what he needs. And that’s kind of what was happening. Secondly, it was a great performance, and [Michael B. Jordan] brought it, and it was painful to watch because you kind of don’t want this guy to die, but it didn’t fit his character.
Coogler definitely had a point. The point of a film is to watch your protagonist grow and change in a fundamental way, which T’Challa does by the end of Black Panther with the decision to share the long-hidden Wakandan tech with a world that desperately needs it. But to have that lesson literally stated out loud by another character is not only an egregious example of telling not showing, but it also weakens T’Challa’s personal growth overall.
According to Shawver, the new ending to Black Panther had a bit of unexpected inspiration in the form of Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Godfather. Not that T’Challa’s transformation is as soul-selling as Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) indoctrination into his family’s crime empire, but both journeys share a “circular nature” where the characters have become the type of leaders they could not have been at the start.
One thing that we did was looking at all those Top 10 lists of best endings ever for movies, and we found in a lot of these videos it was one of two things: it was either the twist ending… or it was The Godfather… Basically, the first time you meet Michael, he’s with Kay and he’s telling her he’s not like his family. ‘That’s not me, Kay. That’s them.’ The last scene we see him, he’s telling Kay he’s not like his family… But then he walks and the door shuts, and you know everything is different. But it’s the same conversation! And so it’s the circular nature why those kinds of endings feel like closure even though it’s open-ended.
What do you think? Do you prefer the ending we got in theaters, or are you intrigued by that original ending? Let us know in the comments below.