By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – At the start of the follow-up to 2018’s groundbreaking Marvel movie “Black Panther,” the kingdom of Wakanda is reeling.
The beloved King T’Challa dies at the opening of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” a script change made after actor Chadwick Boseman passed away from cancer in 2020 just before the sequel was due to start filming.
Walt Disney Co’s Marvel Studios decided not to cast another actor in the role of T’Challa. Instead, writer and director Ryan Coogler crafted a new film that put female characters at the forefront.
“T’Challa surrounded himself with powerful women,” actor Letitia Wright said in an interview ahead of the movie’s global rollout that starts on Wednesday. “We see these women in this film step into another level of leadership, together.”
“Black Panther” broke ground as the first superhero movie with a predominantly Black cast. The film took in $1.3 billion at worldwide box offices, and became the only superhero movie ever nominated for best picture at the Oscars.
Box office experts expect “Wakanda Forever” to bring crowds into cinemas.
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, said the movie will benefit from “massive fan anticipation, early positive screening reactions and the goodwill and emotion generated by the first film.”
The movie could topple the current record for a November opening, now held by 2013 film “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” Dergarabedian said. That film opened with $158.1 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales.
Wright plays Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and a gifted scientist who “would rather stay in her lab and bury her grief in technology,” the actor said. A push from Queen Ramona (Angela Bassett) and the emergence of an external threat propel Shuri to action.
Helping to navigate Wakanda through mourning and disruption are the warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira) and superspy Nakia, played by Lupita N’yongo.
“Women have equity with men” in Wakanda. “There is just an effortless way in which they hold power,” N’yongo said.
“I think it is a good example for us in the world we live in, that it shouldn’t be remarkable for women to be in charge. They are very capable,” she added.
The movie introduces an underwater civilization called Talokan that is descended from an ancient Mayan community.
Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta plays Namor, the wing-footed leader of Talokan.
Marvel worked with consultants on Mesoamerican culture to develop the world and its costumes and stories. Huerta learned to speak Mayan for the role.
“We were taught to be ashamed of our roots, about who we are, our indigenous heritage for a long time,” Huerta said. “Finally we are embracing that.”
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Bill Berkrot)