Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Black Panther in 1966, when the superhero first appeared in an issue of Marvel Comics' “Fantastic Four.” But it wasn't until 50 years later that the character T'Challa appeared on the big screen in the 2016's “Captain America: Civil War.”
With “Black Panther” opening Friday, Feb. 16, T'Challa finally gets the Marvel Studios treatment and his own film. Chadwick Boseman, who has film credits as icons Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, plays T'Challa.
“The initial phone call from Kevin Feige (producer), Louis D’Esposito (producer), Nate Moore (producer) and the Russo Brothers (directors) where they essentially said, ‘We want to bring your character into the Marvel Comic Universe, as a stand-alone, but this is the best way to introduce him in 'Civil War,'” Boseman said.
In “Black Panther,” T'Challa returns to his homeland, the African nation Wakanda, to become king after his father is killed. Wakanda has secrets, including technology that if landed in the wrong hands, would be catastrophic to the world. With the fate of his nation in jeopardy, T'Challa's allies join forces to fight the enemy.
Director Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station,” “Creed”), who co-wrote “Black Panther” with Joe Robert Cole, said he grew up loving comic books. He said they pulled from “every writer that has touched T'Challa,” from Lee and Kirby to modern version of the character.
“He’s (Feige) all about making something that entertains people ... that works as a piece of entertainment, that leaves with something to think about,” Coogler said. “He was very encouraging.”
“Black Panther” features the first African-American lead in a Marvel film and a supporting cast of female characters who are just as strong, if not more so. Feige said that the screenplay was written nearly two years ago but “things have happened in the world which makes the film seem more relevant.”
“There are other things in the film that have been relevant for centuries, but the truth of the matter is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and the whole Marvel bullpen created Wakanda and created T’Challa and created Black Panther and made him a smarter, more accomplished character than any of the other white characters in the mid 1960s,” Feige said.
“So they had the guts to do that in the mid 1960s. The least we can do is live up to that and allow this story to be told the way it needed to be told and not shy away from things that the Marvel founders didn’t shy away from in the height of the civil rights era.”
Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o (“12 Years a Slave”) said she loves the “way this film represents women.” She plays Nakia, a spy with a personal history with T'Challa.
“Each and every one of us is an individual, unique and we all have our own sense of power and our own agency and we hold our own space without being pitted against each other,” Nyong'o said.
“I think that’s a very, very powerful message to send to children, both male and female ... we see women going about their business and supporting each other, even arguing with each other ... having different points of view, but still not being against each other ... we really get a sense of the fabric of Wakanda as a nation and we see women alongside men and we see how much more effective a society can be if they allow women to explore their full potential.”
Born in Iowa and raised in Zimbabwe, Danai Gurira (Michonne in “The Walking Dead”), plays Okoye who leads Wakanda's army as well as the king's all-female protection team. She said the experience has been emotional for her, being Zimbabwean.
“You see the power and the potential of where you’re from, but you see how skewed it’s viewed by the world and how misrepresented it is and how distorted it is or received by the world so often,” Gurira said. “It’s kind of a salve to those wounds to see this world brought to life this way and to see all the potential and power of all of the different African culturalisms .... we see beauty, we see power, we see potential, we see ability, we see resources, but they are never exhibited and then to put it on sort of a Marvel epic scale of exhibition it’s like, it really salves wounds in a really deep way.”
The cast had little opportunity to see the world that was being built by Coogler and the special effects teams, but they said they were in awe of what they saw the first time they saw the world of Blank Panther. Michael B. Jordan, who starred in Coogler's two other films, plays Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, one of the Blank Panther's arch enemies.
“Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw,” Jordan said. “We got a little glimpse of it, but to actually see it on screen fully rendered and the completed project—it was incredible and mind blowing.”