Chadwick Boseman on developing T'Challa's voice and the role of power in Black Panther

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Nov 8, 2017

Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok is getting all of the attention right now thanks to a massive opening weekend, but another Marvel flick is fast approaching: Black Panther, the solo film debut of the title hero first played by Chadwick Boseman in Captain America: Civil War. It's an important film for Marvel, as its first solo film focused on a black superhero, and Boseman very obviously takes that responsibility seriously. 

For this film, Marvel not only had to flesh out its first starring black superhero, but also create the entire culture surrounding that superhero. Wakanda has a comic book history going back decades, but giving that history motion and sound was a big task. For Boseman, one of the key components of that was developing the Wakandan accent. In a new interview with CNET, he explained why it was important to imbue T'Challa with a voice that was wholly a part of his unique place in the world.

"People think about how race has affected the world. It's not just in the States. Colonialism is the cousin of slavery. Colonialism in Africa would have it that, in order to be a ruler, his education comes from Europe. I wanted to be completely sure that we didn't convey that idea, because that would be counter to everything that Wakanda is about," Boseman said. "It's supposed to be the most technologically advanced nation on the planet. If it's supposed to not have been conquered — which means that advancement has happened without colonialism tainting it, poisoning the well of it, without stopping it or disrupting it — then there's no way he would speak with a European accent.

"If I did that, I would be conveying a white supremacist idea of what being educated is and what being royal or presidential is. Because it's not just about him running around fighting. He's the ruler of a nation. And if he's the ruler of a nation, he has to speak to his people. He has to galvanize his people. And there's no way I could speak to my people, who have never been conquered by Europeans, with a European voice."

The level of care and intellectual precision Boseman put into T'Challa's voice is also evident in the way he thinks about the film's story. In Black Panther, T'Challa has to cement his place as king — a role he took up after the death of his father in Civil War — while also dealing with threats from both within and outside Wakanda. In this sort of royal pressure cooker, he must develop a keen understanding of the nature of power, which is why Boseman has come to view the character as something of an antihero.

"He has the attributes of a hero, but has difficult decisions, difficult choices. Sometimes there's no right answer. Everybody has heard the line 'It's hard for a good man to be king.' I think there's a sense of all the complications of being a good leader. At times it feels like The Godfather. It's complicated to do what's right. It's complicated to follow the traditions. It's complicated to do something new. It's complicated when you have to deal with who should live and who should die.

"Sometimes you have to do bad things, or you maybe need to do bad things so there's justice, so there's peace."

Much as Gal Gadot proved throughout the summer in her promotion of Wonder Woman, it's clear that Boseman isn't just here for the paycheck. He sees the importance of Black Panther as a character, and wants to do everything he can to preserve that. That he not only has that ambition but also understands the character so well only makes us more excited about the film.

Black Panther hits theaters Feb. 16.