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SYFY WIRE Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

The new Black Panther wasn’t always set: Here’s who else could’ve succeeded King T’Challa

‘You kick the tires on all sorts of ideas,” says screenwriter Joe Robert Cole.

By Benjamin Bullard
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

Fans who’ve seen Black Panther: Wakanda Forever know how Marvel resolved the impossible choice of replacing King T’Challa in the wake of the 2020 passing of lead actor Chadwick Boseman. But the story that unfolds onscreen in director Ryan Coogler’s blockbuster sequel wasn't always the only one up for discussion.

In a new Rolling Stone interview, Wakanda Forever co-writer Joe Robert Cole revealed that a select company of alternate stars were up for discussion as the film’s creators weighed possible MCU heirs to the Black Panther mantle. Among them were former Black Panther adversary M’Baku (Winston Duke) and T’Challa’s bereft love interest Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), characters who journeyed through rich emotional plot arcs alongside T’Challa in the 2018 first film.

RELATED: Why 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' was right not to recast T'Challa

“You kick the tires on all sorts of ideas,” said Cole, separately acknowledging that both M’Baku and Nakia (whose “name got kicked around for sure”) each brought compelling cases to the table.

“M’Baku certainly was someone that got kicked around a little bit,” said Cole. “…[I]n the comics, Shuri is Black Panther and there’s a natural organicness, I guess is the best way to say it, to her becoming Panther…[Y]ou kick the tires on all sorts of ideas. And you just want to make the best decision and do what’s best for the story.”

To the delight of Shuri (Letitia Wright) fans, T’Challa’s brilliant kid sister does emerge in the finished film as the one to continue her fallen brother’s legacy.

“When we were working through the narrative and the story, we were looking at how each of our characters might be impacted by T’Challa’s loss. And the person closest to him, the person that felt like they would be affected the most, was Shuri,” Cole explained. “We started to look at her arc and the journey we wanted her to take. She takes, I think, an incredible journey on this through this film. Thinking of who she was in the first film, I’m really proud of how she has evolved and grown as a character. At the beginning of this movie, she’s the smartest person in all of Wakanda and yet she can’t save her brother. How does that affect someone?”

If the box office is any measure of fans’ approval, Cole and Coogler (who also shares a screenwriting credit) appear to have made the right call. Heading into the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Wakanda Forever already has cleared the half-billion dollar mark worldwide, clawing up more than $561 million in the week and-a-half since its Nov. 11 premiere.

In light of Boseman’s passing, the movie is an emotional gauntlet for sure. But as most critics agree, it’s also uplifting…and a lot of fun. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is playing now in theaters nationwide.

Looking for more superhero action? Stream Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, and more on Peacock right now.