Marvel Should Recast T'Challa in 'Black Panther' to Honor Chadwick Boseman (Guest Blog)
If Marvel kills off the character, it also kills off decades of future inspiring stories, especially for Black boys, writes Emmanuel Noisette
I’ve been a comic book reader since the age of 10. When I discovered the Black Panther comics, I realized what true representation felt like. I finally saw a character that looked like me, one that I could dress up as for Halloween. I was ecstatic when the character appeared in “Captain America: Civil War” and got his own movie. I was brought to tears when I learned of Chadwick Boseman’s passing. Then when Kevin Feige announced that Marvel will not be recasting his character T’Challa, it was yet another unexpected emotional gut punch.
The more I thought about what this could mean long-term, the more depressing, bleak, and short-sighted this decision started to seem.
There were two options that I dreaded for T’Challa’s character in the MCU moving forward: 1. They would relegate him to just being a background character (a la Paul Walker from the “Fast & Furious” franchise) or 2. they’ll kill him off. The first option would be so disappointing, but that latter option would be even worse. T’Challa was already presumed dead in the movie, then he came back to life. Then the real-life actor passes away, only for the studios to potentially kill off his fictional character again? Anyone who even entertains this thought needs to examine just why they’re so comfortable with emotional trauma porn of Black death. We’ve already had enough of that in real life with the pandemic and police brutality, and the last thing we need is for that to be reflected in our fictional superheroes.
Boseman played a strong, intelligent and capable Black king. (Photo: Marvel Studios)
Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa was significant because he brought to life an image that many Black boys and men rarely see — an advanced, prosperous world led by a strong, intelligent and capable Black king. The character was originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to be an uplifting anti-stereotype during the 1960s. T’Challa was the very first Black superhero in mainstream comics; he is literally Black history.
If Marvel Studios removes T’Challa, then that would be at the expense of the Black boys who looked up to him. Black boys do not deserve to have their hero pushed off to the sidelines or worse. No child deserves that. Think back to “Black Panther” when T’Challa was presumed dead, only to heroically come back to life. Then for us to learn that the actor ends up dying in real life. Follow that up with Marvel finding whatever creative way to kill him on/off-screen (AGAIN!?) in “Black Panther 2.” Do Black lives no longer matter? I would like to believe that it is the fantasy of the character of T’Challa that helps us all escape the painful realities of the real world.
Another painful reality that dawned on me with Marvel’s decision is how it could inadvertently play into Hollywood’s already discriminatory track record with minority characters. No, I am not calling Marvel racist. What I am saying is that Hollywood has typically demonstrated absolutely no issue when it comes to recasting fictional white characters. We have had a plethora of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man or James Bond movies and actors over the decades. No matter how iconic an actor may be in the role, or how bad the movies may be, or even if the death of the actor was involved, the fictional character lived on. It would be inconceivable to even imagine not recasting Superman because Christopher Reeves passed on, or Joker because Heath Ledger was just so amazing in the role.
A Disney+ series is in the works featuring Wakanda as a setting. (Photo: Marvel Studios)
It feels unsettling that the option not to recast is happening to one of the few Black, leading superheroes we have in T’Challa. I understand that Marvel believes their decision is based on honoring Chadwick. However, it stifles the opportunity for one of the most popular, leading Black superheroes to add on to their legacy. T’Challa still has decades-worth of fantastic stories left to tell, and the MCU only scratched the surface with his arc. Black superheroes like T’Challa shouldn’t be subjected to discriminatory Hollywood math: Black characters are dealt with subtraction and division while white characters get addition and multiplication. T’Challa deserves the same luxury of living on (and being seen) just like all the other popular superheroes get to do.
When it comes down to it, I do believe that the simplest option for Marvel Studios is just to recast the character of T’Challa. If they need more time for people to emotionally heal from Boseman’s passing, then that’s fine. I’ve proposed the idea in the past that a Disney+ Wakanda series would be a great placeholder and just delay “Black Panther 2.” (Luckily, Marvel Studios has done just that!)
My heart still carries some emotional, recency bias and it’s hard for me to see someone else in the role. At the same time, I know that if the role were to be recast, the next actor would not be trying to replace Chadwick. Rather, they would be picking up the baton he worked so hard to carry and bring something unique to the role. Marvel simply needs to get an exceptionally talented actor (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II or John David Washington, perhaps), and fans will be won over. They should also rephrase and clarify their position by saying something to the effect of, “We do not have any plans of recasting at this time.”At least that way, the window of hope to see T’Challa on screen again isn’t slammed in our faces.
Also, let me just say that even if Marvel wanted to pass on the mantle of the Black Panther to Shuri (Letitia Wright) or someone else, T’Challa can still exist. Even in the comics, Shuri was both queen and Black Panther while T’Challa was alive doing other things. As a matter of fact, that dichotomy within their relationship had some great storylines, too.
At the end of the day, I still believe in the creative genius of Ryan Coogler and producer Nate Moore. I also believe that Kevin Feige has only the best intentions in mind. I’m sure they know the impact of the Black Panther franchise on society, and T’Challa’s significance too. Marvel should continue to honor and celebrate Chadwick in as many ways as they wish without compromising the legendary character of T’Challa. While I’ll be first in line to support anything Black Panther-related, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned until Marvel does right by T’Challa.
[Editors note: You can watch Emmanuel Noisette’s video explanation on why T’Challa should be recast here.]
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