From the beginning, the Black Panther franchise has been a surprising ensemble story. Yes, the first film was named after the titular superhero, but even that film featured an unusually strong cast of well rounded and fan favorite characters. After all, the first Black Panther film includes a second act where T’Challa is on ice for an extended period. T’Challa is a beloved character, but the genius of Black Panther is that it elevated characters like Nakia, Okoye, M’Baku, Shuri and Queen Ramonda. That strong cast of characters is arguably the key to the first film’s success.
Those fantastic characters have proven to be franchise-saving, following the heart-breaking passing of star Chadwick Boseman. While nobody can hope to replace the revered Boseman, in real life or on screen, the cast of Wakanda Forever came together to carry on his legacy, and did so like of a family that forms even greater bonds in times of tragedy.
I had the opportunity to speak with several members of the Wakanda Forever cast and crew, including Letitia Wright (Shuri), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Alex Livinalli (Attuma), Mabel Cadena (Namora) and Nate Moore (Marvel Studios VP of Production & Development). It was clear from our conversations that this project was particularly emotional and special for everyone involved and that the relationships between the cast and crew only grew throughout the process.
Letitia Wright Interview
Perhaps nobody involved with the film had as much new responsibility put upon them as Letitia Wright, who plays Princess Shuri. Shuri was an instant fan favorite in the first film, as T’Challa’s vibrant and enthusiastic younger sister and Wakanda’s tech genius. It was a role that Wright, who was 25 when the first film was released, played with aplomb.
In Wakanda Forever, Shuri is a significantly different character and Wright has clearly evolved in her craft as well. Wright talked about her relationship with her “sisters”, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, and how they helped her grow as a person and an artist. She also talked about her creative process in thinking about Shuri’s backstory and how she has prepared for this moment as a member of the royal family of Wakanda. Recognizing that Shuri is an inspiration to diverse STEM students everywhere, Wright also talked about what she hopes audiences will take away from the film.
Admittedly, I was a bit nervous going into this interview, as Wright has dealt with both adversity and controversy during the production of Wakanda Forever. The saying, “heavy is the head that wears the crown” seems to perfectly apply to both Wright and Shuri. However, during our conversation, Wright was kind and warm. Her thoughtful answers reflect how much she cares about her character, the film and her cast members, and I appreciated our time.
Lupita Nyong’o Interview
As much as Shuri must carry on T’Challa’s legacy in Wakanda Forever, Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia must carry on his memory. In the first film, Nakia is the moral compass for both T’Challa as a leader and Wakanda as a country. Beyond the screen, Nyong’o always seemed to share a unique bond with Boseman, often sharing candid photos of the two on social media.
In our conversation, Nyong’o talked about how meaningful it is for her to inspire children of color through her work, including her children’s book Sulwe. She shared why Nakia such a great character, and, as a Kenyan-Mexican actress, how much she appreciated the opportunity to blend her cultures in this film. Nyong’o also talked about Chadwick Boseman, what she learned about leadership from him and how she applied those lessons during the production of Wakanda Forever.
Danai Gurira Interview
Danai Gurira, who plays General Okoye, is no stranger to massive geek franchises. For nearly eight years, Gurira starred as Michonne on the hit show The Walking Dead. I asked Gurira what advice Michonne might have for Okoye, expecting her to laugh, but she gave a surprisingly thoughtful answer about perseverance and grief. In a fantastic profile for SELF, Gurira shared a formative experience of when she was as a young girl and was punched by a boy, and I asked her about how that memory has helped inform her role as Wakanda’s greatest warrior. Further, as an accomplished playwright, Gurira has worked with Letitia Wright on some of her plays, and she talked about the ways she’s seen Wright grow as an artist.
Alex Livinalli and Mabel Cadena Interview
Alex Livinalli and Mabel Cadena are newcomers to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As Attuma and Namora respectively, the two play newly introduced characters and represent a new group created specifically for the MCU that is inspired by Mesoamerican culture. As Mexican actors, both Livinalli and Cadena talked about how exciting it is to be part of the MCU and the incredible support they have felt from Latinx fans. Livinalli and Cadena discussed the intense underwater training the film and what it means to them personally to be part of Wakanda Forever.
Livinalli and Cadena are such wonderful additions to the MCU family. Their enthusiasm is palpable and they truly seem to appreciate their fans. It’s not possible to interview either of them and not walk away with a smile and I certainly hope to see more of their characters in the near future.
Producer Nate Moore Interview
More casual audiences may not know Nate Moore, but as a producer on both Black Panther and Wakanda Forever (as well as several other MCU projects), Moore is one of the most important figures in Marvel Studios. As Vice President of Production and Development at Marvel Studios and a member of the creative brain trust known as the Parliament, Moore has shepherded some of the most impactful stories in recent years. He also made headlines in 2021 in an interview with the Ringerverse podcast The Midnight Boys, when he declared that the character of T’Challa would never be recast. That interview caused quite a stir on social media, even inspiring significant backlash from some fans and a social media campaign against the idea of not recasting T’Challa.
I was thrilled to be able to speak with Moore about those statements and the decision not to recast T’Challa. I appreciated that he didn’t respond defensively to any of the backlash and instead welcomed the fan enthusiasm for the character and franchise. Moore said that all of those opinions are valid and that he was excited for everyone to see in the film why they made the decision that they did.
We also spoke about Phase Four generally, which Moore described as the “grief and renewal” phase, and what makes Wakanda Forever the right story to end the phase. Finally, as someone who has worked closely with director Ryan Coogler on both films, Moore talked about how he has seen Coogler continue to grow as a creative, describing him as being increasingly more collaborative and a stronger leader.
In Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright), M’Baku (Winston Duke), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the Dora Milaje (including Florence Kasumba) fight to protect their nation from intervening world powers in the wake of King T’Challa’s death. As the Wakandans strive to embrace their next chapter, the heroes must band together with the help of War Dog Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and forge a new path for the kingdom of Wakanda. Introducing Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor, ruler of a hidden undersea nation, the film also stars Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel, Mabel Cadena and Alex Livinalli. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige and Nate Moore, opens in U.S. theaters Nov. 11, 2022.
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.