WATCH | Ryan Coogler On The Isolation Of Grief And How Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Allows Everyone To Mourn Together

“It was very clear to us that what we were going through was kind of happening to everybody on an analogous level,” says the director of the Marvel film.

When Black Panther was released in 2018, it united Black people across the diaspora with a shared pride in seeing a superhero film starring African and African American actors. This time, the cast and crew of the film’s sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, will once again bring audiences together around a shared theme: grief.

Early reviews of the movie, which will be released in theaters November 11, have likened the Marvel project to a war film in the way that it touches on so many emotions of the human experience while at its core being an action flick. When we asked director Ryan Coogler about that feedback, he understood the comparison.

“We wanted to make a movie that would affect audiences on every level,” Coogler tells ESSENCE. “We’re trying to respect the audience at all times, if that makes sense. And it is something that I try to think about, because I’m an audience member so much. I love going to the movies. And so I think the greatest gift as filmmakers that we can give the audience is a good time at the movies. Something that they watch and they think about—they feel full. They think about the meal the next day. They think about the meal the day after. It’s like, I want to go back to that restaurant and eat that again. So that’s the type of stuff we’re trying to make. We want this film to be like that. We wanted it to have all of the flavors that a film could have. Emotional depth, high stakes action, intrigue, twists. We wanted to deliver.”

You’ll be hard-pressed to find viewers who disagree that the 2022 follow-up makes good on that intention, particularly as it relates to honoring the original Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman. For Coogler and cast, being able to come together on set and remember his impact, not only on this franchise, but as a human being, was healing. “Grief can sometimes be an isolating thing, where it’s like, ‘Man, this is only happening to me.’ But the truth is, it was very clear to us that what we were going through was kind of happening to everybody on an analogous level,” says Coogler. “I lost a friend and a collaborator who means a lot to me. Other people have been through something like that as well.”

When it comes to Boseman in particular, who died on August 28, 2020, at the age of 43, Coogler adds, “Chad affected everybody. And on a societal level, we were being affected by Covid – obviously we still are—but at that time, that was pre-vaccines and you were scared to give somebody a hug. You know what I’m saying? That was the zone that we lost him in, you understand? And we were still in that zone while making the movie, so it made sense to lean into that emotion.”

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters November 11. Check out our full interview with Ryan Coogler in the video above.

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