One of the most highly anticipated Marvel films will be released in theaters nationwide February 16, 2018. The appearance of the Black Panther first premiered in Fantastic Four back in 1966. Our King T’Challa has had a 50+ year history in comics. And over 20 years ago, Columbia Pictures was flirting with the idea of having a Black Panther film greenlit, played by none another than Wesley Snipes. Snipes never got the role of Black Panther since the film never saw the light of day, but a few years later, he became one of the most popular vampires that help build the Marvel movie franchise.
The time has finally arrived, and a Black Panther film has been developed, produced, shot, edited and ready for global distribution. I had the opportunity during the shooting phase, to sit down with the cast and crew and gather some intel for you about the film and what to expect when the most anticipated movie of the year premieres next month.
During our set visit we sat down with cast members Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, as well as production designer Hannah Beachler, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, and executive producer Nate Moore. These studio-trained actors kept it tight-lipped for the most part about their roles and their respective story arcs in the blockbuster film. However, we did manage to pick up on some clues when Andy Serkis came in full makeup with his arm partially concealed. We know his character’s arm got chopped off but will see his weapon? Also, Michael B. Jordan took off his coat and revealed his costume which looks like Killmonger is not going to look like the shirtless savage character we know from the comics. Instead, he has breastplate armor and shoulder pads.
We also watched film footage featuring Everett K. Ross, T’Challa, and the Dora Milaje. In the scene, Klaue is being held in an interrogation room in South Korea. Ross has popped up on their radar and there is confrontation among Ross, T’Challa, and the Dora Milaje.
So what is it about this movie that all moviegoers should get ready for before its release date?
I’m going to share with you 20 things I learned during my set visit to Marvel’s Black Panther
Motherland is the working title for Black Panther
Many of the local cast and crew and even local residents of Atlanta are more familiar with the working title “Motherland” as opposed to Black Panther. So you’re definitely in the know if you walk past a Screen Gems employee and whisper the words “Motherland”. It’s likely they’ll think you’re one of a crew. Think of it as a secret password to your ticket to Wakanda.
The MCU Story Of Black Panther Will Based on the Christopher Priest and Ta-Nehisi Coates Run
When Executive Producer Nate Moore revealed to the press that this story will be based on two of the best runs of Black Panther (Priest being arguably the best), I let a long “yaaaaaas”. Moore tells the following:
“You know, Ryan and Ta-Nehisi have a friendship. They’ve spoken, both Ryan and I have spoken to Chris, who’s incredibly smart and obviously, did the seminal run on the character so far. We’ve talked to them, it hasn’t gone as far as consulting but we always wanted to pick their brain as to what they found interesting about the character in the world. It turned out, a lot of what they find interesting, is what we also found interesting. We love Reggie’s run as well, we didn’t talk to them as much. It was really Chris and Ta-Nehisi’s runs that were the most inspirational.”
Shuri Will Play A Significant Role In This Movie
English-born actress Letitia Wright will be playing the role of T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri. The 22-year-old starlet has appeared on TV in the British series Doctor Who, Cucumber, and Chasing Shadows. She landed a key role in Steven Spielberg’s big-budget tentpole Ready Player One and recently was featured in the “Black Museum” episode of Black Mirror. According to Chadwick Boseman, Shuri (pronounced SHU-REE) will be a protective sister to her brother King T’Challa.
According to Executive Producer Nate Moore, she’s a big part of the film. Shuri is the head of the design group and her role will differ slightly than what you’ve seen in the comics. She is the head of technology in Wakanda and has a huge responsibility in keeping that technology secret. She is also a protector of that said technology and does what she can to ensure it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
Everett K. Ross Was Brought Into Civil War To Establish His Role In Black Panther
If you have read any of the Christopher Priest runs of Black Panther, you’re likely very familiar with the tongue-in-cheek relationship Everett K. Ross shares with T’Challa. Ross worked for the U.S. State Department; his job was to escort foreign diplomats on American soil and he’s a long-time ally of the Black Panther.
On our set interview, when asked if he knew he was going to be in Black Panther after being cast in Civil War, Freeman tells us “that was the idea”. So it looks like MCU had this planned for awhile, as well as the deliberate addition of Klaue in Avengers: Age Of Ultron.
Klaue’s Relationship With T’Challa Will Differ From The Comics
If you’ve been following the MCU storyline so far, we know that T’Chaka’s death in Captain America: Civil War is not canonical. In the comics, Ulysses Klaue kills T’Chaka which is the impetus for T’Challa’s revenge and rivalry with Klaue. There will also be some creative liberties taken with Killmonger as well.
Here’s what Executive Producer Nate Moore tells us:
“It’s definitely not the relationship you expect from reading the comics. And as you said we like to be inspired by publishing but we also realize we’re building our own universe right? I think Killmonger and Klaue have two very different agendas and they do not line up perfectly. Whether or not these guys have a relationship is something we want you guys to learn. But Klaue in our mind is very reminiscent of the Klaue in the comics but clearly, his genesis is totally different. Andy Serkis who actually just started this week is an amazing performer and I think brings a different flavor to the tone of the film even than what Michael B. Jordan does. I think it’s going to be really fun.”
Black Panther’s Production Design Is The Route To Afrofuturism
According to production designer Hannah Beachler, who has worked with Ryan Coogler before in films Fruitvale Station and Creed, she says,
“So we just retold the story in a different way, which in a lot of ways is a route to go with Afrofuturism, which is basically just taking the story and making it … into something that is not what it was originally supposed to be. We are taking it and mixing it up and re-owning it.”
Beachler goes on to say that each tribe has their own sigil, within the throne room and the tribal council, each will have an identifier for their tribe.
“The Border Tribe is horsemen, which is after the Lesothos in South Africa, and the Merchant Tribe is a symbol that we took from some language from Nigeria, so we did that. The Golden Tribe is the sun, and we used what is … a lot of the symbols for sun in a lot of the African tribes, it’s kind of the same … so we went there, but that’s the older texture.”
Lupita Nyong’o Is Doing Her Own Stunts
Lupita states that Nakia’s fighting style is being influenced by Judo and Jujitsu, as well as Silat, and Philippine martial arts. She tells us the following:
“So I’m learning all these cool skills and I get to jump higher than I thought I could jump, and I get to roll back, which I thought I would never do after the age of eight, so it’s been fun.”
And so far Lupita has been doing her own stunts.
Main Unit Scenes Were Shot In Atlanta and Second Unit in South Korea
We were in Atlanta watching some of the main scenes being shot which featured actors Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurrira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, and Chadwick Boseman. There are a lot of exteriors and more that will be shot in South Korea as well.
Klaue Has His Own Plans For T’Challa
We all knew that Ulysses Klaue who is a long time adversary of T’Challa’s would appear in Black Panther, but when Killmonger was also announced, it surprised some fans that two major villains will have stories to unpack and battles to be fought against T’Challa in this story. I asked Andy Serkis if Killmonger and Klaue would be working in tandem together against our lead protagonist. Here’s what Serkis had to say:
Klaue doesn’t really trust or work with anybody. He is his own man. He does deal with people, he interacts, but he doesn’t form allegiances or alliances to anyone. He’s very much ultimately a lone wolf, but as I was saying, he has these pop-up groups wherever he happens to be in the world. So, Killmonger and he aren’t working together.
The Dora Milaje Will Have Character Development and Agency
The “Adored Ones” also known as the Dora Milaje will be given some agency and not just be the betrothed servant bodyguards or “wives-in-waiting” to T’Challa. Director Ryan Coogler was really interested in exploring the relationships among these characters as well as building out his relationship with the Dora Milaje. Executive Nate Moore describes them as an all-female Seal Team Six. However, Moore believes in making these special forces women individuals, rather than a monolithic force of ass kickers. Moore also says Okoye and Nakia will be a big part of the movie. How these women work, their role in Wakanda, and their relationship with the king is a big part of the storytelling.
We Will See Klaue’s Weapon
Based on the clues surrounding our set visit, although it was never explicitly stated, we will likely see Klaue’s vibranium-powered sonic converter. Serkis was a bit coy in disclosing this information and even asked permission to answer the question. Here is what Serkis had to say about the weapon.
Andy: We’ve established the character, and the character is what we saw in “Ultron,” or our version of Klaue. He obviously had his arm chopped off, and he has a weapon which we will discover, and I don’t know if I’m allowed to say too much about. Am I allowed to talk about Klaue’s weapon?
Producer: No, let’s keep that to ourselves. Surprise, surprise.
Andy: He’s a very good doughnut thrower.
Andy does this again when I ask him a question about research. Keep in mind these probing questions can easily give clues to Klaue’s character which could potentially reveal more than the cast is allowed to provide press.
Jamie: What kind of research did you put into Klaue, because in addition to the comics, there was also a really great animated series for Black Panther that featured Klaue, so what research did you put into the role?
Andy: Well, I mean … Again, this is so hard without giving away too much of it. I was just about to launch into it but I just don’t want to say too much.
Jamie: We won’t tell.
Andy: Ummm …(Imitates taser noises) Gosh, what can I say? Just in terms of the weapon he might or might not have, he is actually quite a brilliant assembler of … weaponry and technology, and putting those together. So I looked a lot into that, to be very superficial about it.
Shuri Is The Smartest Person In The World
These words came out of producer Nate Moore’s mouth when I asked about how much of the technology and wealth will we see in Wakanda? He states that having a city built on Vibranium allows them to have all these advances and have wealth beyond our wildest imaginings and that is a big part of the movie.
“As far as the technologically advanced side, in our mind and in our incarnation, Shuri is the head of the Wakandan design group so she’s, in our mind, the smartest person in the world. Smarter than Tony Stark but she’s a 16-year-old girl which we thought was really interesting. Again, Black faces in positions of power or positions of technological know how that’s a rarity. It’s something that’s a big part of the film.”
So let’s marinate on this for a second everyone. The smartest person in the world in a Marvel movie is a 16-year-old Black girl. That’s epic. As you know currently, on the publishing side of Marvel, the smartest person in the universe is 9-year old Lunella Lafayette from Moon Girl and the Devil Dinosaur. Black girl nerds rule.
Don’t Expect A Cameo From Tony Stark Or Any Other Avengers Anytime Soon
The story of Black Panther in this film is all about the origin and world building. Executive Producer Nate Moore says the following:
“There’s so many characters from the Black Panther world that we wanted to explore we didn’t want to rely on cameos from other movies so I wouldn’t expect that. Nor do we want to have to make those direct line comparisons but I think it will be obvious.”
Now, will we see Stan Lee make a cameo? That’s going to be interesting for all of us to find out.
Nakia’s Storyline From The Priest Arc May Play Out
This could potentially get spoilery, so I won’t tell you what happens between Nakia and T’Challa in the comics, but there is a dramatic story that ensues between the two of them. When Nyong’o was asked about Nakia’s loyalty to her country or to her king, the actress replied stating that is the dilemma and Nakia will have to figure out what comes first for her. Although the production team will take creative liberties in some aspects, the story is highly inspired by Christopher Priest’s run in the comics as well. If you want to hear exactly what happens, listen to episode 9 season 1 of the Misty Knight’s Uninformed Afro Podcast called “Wife School Dropouts”.
The Cast and Crew Of Black Panther Are Well Aware of the #BlackPantherSoLIT hashtag
The #BlackPantherSoLIT hashtag coined by Twitter user @chadwickschill, started in May of 2016 shortly after the more casting announcements of Black Panther were released. Specifically, Black Twitter got wind of the hashtag and it went viral instantly. My tweet seen below is my most RT’d tweet to date clocking in at over 7K retweets
— Black Girl Nerds (@BlackGirlNerds) May 14, 2016
BGN contributor and freelancer for blackfilm.com Jacqueline Coley and I brought up social media and the use of hashtags. Here’s what Chadwick had to say about it.
Chadwick: No because I’m not saying I expected the fan reaction to be the way it was but to a certain degree, I’m unaware of the fan reaction.
Chadwick: Yeah because I keep … You’re like you don’t believe me.
Jacqueline: I believe you. I don’t want to believe you but…
Jamie: What about the Black Panther So Lit hashtag.
Chadwick: Say it again?
Jamie: The Black Panther So Lit hashtag?
Chadwick: Yeah, see… I see it. I see certain things but I see it in a different way because it’s important for me not to look at everything that’s happening so I see it because some things are impossible to not see but there’s a certain removal I have to have from it in order to play it because it’s just…you have people saying it’s got to have this or it’s got to have that. If I was to follow their thoughts from the last one, it would have been a lot of stuff that was wrong. I think you have to stay in it in a way where your decisions are made based upon things that are organic. It’s a lot of storytellers here. All of the different departments are all storytellers so you’re collaborating with them moreso than with the audience.
You are collaborating with the audience but it’s not like…if I was doing a play and I’m on stage with somebody and the audience responds, we get that direct. I know that worked because he responded to it. Between blogs and this and that and journalists, you can’t put your foot in that so I would say no. It’s the fact that now, in this case, you have a new director who’s building on the steps of previous directors and writers and new writers. It’s the baby of Stan Lee and, there are so many other factors that come into play. Various different writers or various different versions of the character. It’s a lot of stuff to put in that you are being influenced by.
I should also mention that a Disney publicist shared with us that when some members of the crew are having a bad day, they peep the #BlackPantherSoLit hashtag. Kudos to @ChadwicksChill on Twitter for creating an inspiring movement!
There Are No Damsels In Distress In This Movie
According to Chadwick Boseman, he believes there are no damsels in distress in this movie.
All of these characters are strong, and even if it’s not a physical prowess, there is a mental prowess. It’s intelligence and savvy. Obviously, you have Angela Bassett here. She’s incredible to watch. Again, she’s always really strong. I would say in this movie because my father is dead, it gives me an opportunity to look to her for wisdom and I think it shows the matriarchal African society in doing that. She’s an advisor that I would go to. It’s a culture relationship. It’s not just like she’s my mother, she’s on the side. She’s not a figurehead mother. I’m not gonna talk about their characters too much but just to have them here, it’s just a beautiful thing.
We Will Get Some Non-Traditional Flashbacks
Executive Producer Nate Moore tells us that we will get a little bit of a sense of who T’Challa was like when he was a kid. It won’t be a significant part of the movie, but there will, in fact, be some exploration as to who T’Challa was before he became Black Panther. So looks like we’ll get an origin story. Moore also stated there will be a bit of non-traditional storytelling within the flashbacks. He elaborates that there will be some cool cinematic twists to take you back and maybe fill you in on what’s happened before.
The Dora Milaje Will Look Like Warriors, Not The Lost Members of En Vogue
If you’re familiar at all with the Christopher Priest run of Black Panther, which first introduces the bodyguards of T’Challa, otherwise known as the Dora Milaje, Okoye and Nakia were dressed in red fashionable miniskirts. According to costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who has worked on several films such as Do The Right Thing, Amistad, Chi-Raq, and Selma; she states that the women will be developed as real warriors suited to protect their king. Ruth says:
“we didn’t want the guy in the skin suit walking around with the girls in the bathing suits, so we developed it more as a real warrior might be developed. Real warriors who need their arms protected and need to have shields and armor and weaponry and shoes like they’re really going to go to battle.”
Black Panther Will Deal With Life After T’Chaka
Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa’s father T’Chaka dies after an explosion, during Helmut Zemo’s attack. According to Executive Producer Nate Moore,
“I say that because a big part of the beginning of the movie is this adjustment to life without T’Chaka. You see some of the other leaders in Wakanda and how they interact with T’Challa sort of indicates how they feel about him. I think even for him, this is a guy who wasn’t planning on being king anytime soon so he’s sort of being thrust into a leadership position almost before his time. He’s not even sure if he’s the right leader for Wakanda.”.
So it appears this story of Black Panther will, in fact, pick up where Civil War left off.
Marvel Has Learned Their Lesson In Whitewashing Casting (for now)
The whitewashing of The Ancient One in Doctor Strange was a huge blow to Asian audiences as well as many other people of color who didn’t understand why a white actress was cast to play the role of a historically Asian character. The new Iron Fist series (although not exactly whitewashing) disappointed many Asian American fans since Danny Rand’s story is deeply rooted in orientalist tropes and a cringe-worthy white savior narrative.
Moore elaborates on the following about casting for Black Panther and what Marvel is doing now:
“We’ve always tried to find room for faces that look like everybody and not just homogenous casting. Panther obviously is a big swing which we hope to continue through many, many sequels and take some of these characters and put them in other franchises. I do think there’s a way to cross-pollinate in an interesting way. It’s also finding new heroes and new stories that allow us to do that organically. Looking at casting as a way to find the best actor or actress regardless of race or gender frankly. Sometimes we step in it a little bit, I think The Ancient One in Dr. Strange was a lesson for us. In trying to avoid a stereotype we created and issue that we completely understood in hindsight. We want to tell stories for everybody. I always point to The Fast and Furious franchise as sort of weirdly the standard bearer for casting a film that travels everywhere because somebody is represented no matter where you go. I think that’s really valuable, I think it does something culturally that it’s hard to put a finger on, but you really see the payoff.”
We’ve learned a great deal from the upcoming Marvel film Black Panther which we’re certain will be a game changer for comic book movies forward. All fans both old and new will appreciate the world-building, character development, scenery, costumes, and star-studded performances this film has to offer. We’ll see you in Wakanda in February.
Here’s an EXCLUSIVE clip from the film to help whet your appetite!
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.