1. Destined to Be King
An Australian bodyguard named Charles Carter foretold Chadwick Boseman’s starring role as T’Challa back in 2014. The men became on-set friends while the actor was filming Gods of Egypt, having bonded over their love of martial arts. One day Carter told Boseman, “I know the perfect role for you.” A longtime fan of the comics, he gifted Boseman his 1977 first edition copy of the initial Black Panther issue with a note that read, “You’re going to get this role.” At the time, there had been no discussion by Marvel, and though Boseman had heard of the character, he didn’t know much about T’Challa.
2. From Get on Up to Black Panther
Many months later, while promoting Get on Up in Zürich, Switzerland, Boseman received a call from Marvel studios; his driver pulled over in front of an antique store to let the actor speak uninterrupted. The project was so hush-hush that the executive didn’t even tell Boseman the name of the character they wanted him to play. As they talked, Boseman looked out the car window at the shop’s display–and noticed several panther statues.
3. Storytelling Through Design
Black Panther had so many characters that director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) and production designer Hannah Beachler (Moonlight, Miles Ahead) decided to create a color story to help identify characters and groups; i.e. Okoye and the Dora Milaje (women warriors) in red, Zuri in purple, Nakia in green, and Killmonger in blue. The conceit went deeper than mere color, however. Blue was used to represent colonization: Coogler and Beachler incorporated the idea of water, referencing the “water separated diaspora,” according to Coogler. They also drew inspiration from European flags, and a bluish tint was added to the cinematography in scenes such as the one at The British Museum. Meanwhile, when we see Nakia, Okoye, and T’Challa together in the casino scene, their colors (green, red, and black) are a representation of the Pan-African flag.
Beachler designed T’Challa’s personal aircraft, the Royal Talon Fighter (RTF), to look like Panther’s mask from the top. Coogler notes that its underside looked like it had subwoofers.
5. Complicated History
The scene where we first meet Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger was inspired by Coogler’s own trip to The British Museum with his wife. He recalled their “odd” conversations about it being “beautiful but complicated” due to controversy over artifacts taken from–and claimed by–other countries. The museum set was put together by Beachler in Atlanta, with great attention paid to placing every piece in its appropriate time period.
6. Locations with Meaning
The opening scene of Black Panther was shot at an apartment building in Atlanta across from the King Center, where Martin Luther King is buried. On the first day of shooting, King’s daughter came over and blessed the project. (The Center was touched up with CG in post-production to look more like another apartment building on the street.)
7. Warrior Falls
Warrior Falls, where the ritual combat challenges take place, was inspired by the rocks at South Africa’s Oribi Gorge. The giant set was built on a backlot in Atlanta, 40 feet tall and 120 feet wide. Effects extended the water, and red dirt was brought in to resemble the soil in South Africa.
While scouting locations in South Africa, Coogler met “the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen”–M-20, a rhinoceros at a game reserve in Spioenkop. W’Kabi’s (Daniel Kaluuya) digital-wrapped rhino was named after this real-life counterpart. M-20 was played in the movie by a (“not nice” according to Beachler) Clydesdale horse because its gait was similar to that of a rhino. The real-life M-20 later had his horn cut to protect him from poachers.
9. Wakandan Language
The Wakandan font design seen in the opening titles was created by Beachler and graphic designer Zachary Fannin. They based it in part on some 4th century shapes from Nsibidi, a system of symbols created by indigenous people in what is now Nigeria. Beachler also hand wrote (in two languages) N’Jobu’s journal, found by Killmonger during his visit to the ancestral plane.
10. The Panther King
Coogler says T’Challa’s forehead stripe is a “shoutout to The Lion King.”
11. Making a Forest
Coogler wanted to reference the ongoing issue with kidnappings in Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest area, so Beachler turned the Atlanta set into the forest. She brought in 20 tons of red dirt and over 150,000 plants, which an amazed Coogler noted were so well maintained by the greens foreman, Pedro Barquin, that they actually flowered and bore fruit.
12. Hidden Themes
Black Panther contains an overarching theme of hiding in plain sight. According to Coogler, this is to demonstrate that “Africans can be everywhere, and you can’t tell Wakandans from other people from the continent.” Examples include the introduction of Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, Sterling K. Brown’s N’Jobu, Danai Gurira’s Okoye under a wig in the casino, and even the casino itself, which is accessed through an old woman’s Busan shopfront.
13. The Ancestral Plane
T’Challa’s ritual ceremony in the City of the Dead was heavily inspired by Samsāra (reincarnation); Coogler wanted him “to experience death.” A “bit of a Jesse James warping effect” was added post-production to the scene where T’Challa is with his dying father. Coogler’s referring here to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The warping effect, he says, was a “shoutout to Roger Deakins,” the Academy Award-winning cinematographer of that film, who’s known for his innovative techniques.
14. Underground Railroad
The scene where Nakia escorts T’Challa’s family away from harm after he “dies” was inspired by Harriet Tubman, who helped lead people to safety in spite of the danger. Later, when T’Challa and Killmonger fall down the mine together, there is a symbolic underground railroad where they fight.
The Wakandan crossed-arms salute recalls the burial position of pharaohs and the poses of some West African statues; it also means “love” or “hug” in American Sign Language.
16. Family Comedy
One of the funniest moments in Black Panther comes when Letitia Wright’s Shuri pulls a “fakeout” at Warrior Falls. When Forest Whitaker’s Zuri asks if anyone has royal blood to challenge T’Challa for the throne, Shuri raises her hand. But she’s not challenging, she’s just being a wiseass: “This corset is really uncomfortable so could we all just wrap this up and go home?” The moment sprung from a suggestion made by brothers Donald and Stephen Glover (Atlanta), who reviewed the script for Coogler right before filming. Their goal was to help highlight the comedic moments between Shuri and T’Challa. Coogler called the siblings’ relationship the film’s most important one.
17. Influences Ranging from Spielberg…
Winston Duke’s opening soliloquy as M’Baku was inspired by the 2012 film Lincoln. When Coogler saw the Steven Spielberg-directed movie, he noted its interesting political scenes and how animated discussions in the House were: “If you know African culture, we’re such an animated people. You know what I’m saying? I thought it would be great if this guy comes out with these political arguments, but it’s also like a challenge to T’Challa’s masculinity …He’s doing those things at the same time. M’Baku in the comics, he’s in his ape suit. It’s extremely problematic. We wanted to make his character one of dignity. We wanted him to be sexy. I can take no credit for that. That’s all Winston. We also wanted to invoke that they worship a deity that’s different from the animal god that the Panther tribes worship. You’ll see the white paint on his back symbolizing that he’s a silverback, symbolizing that he’s the leader of a tribe. And it’s interesting because the Jabari Tribe don’t have an elder to speak for them. M’Baku is a young leader. He’s got that acumen. He’s the same age as T’Challa. He comes and speaks for himself.”
18. To Bo Jackson…
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige wanted the car chase scene to be as epic as possible, so Coogler pulled out all the stops. From Ludwig Göransson’s (Fruitvale Station, The Mandalorian, Tenet) score to Darrin Prescott’s (John Wick, Drive, Baby Driver) camera work, everything about the scene is incredible. From the moment Coogler and Beachler saw Busan’s Gwangandaegyo Bridge, they knew they’d use it in the scene. Black Panther’s jump off the car was inspired by Bo Jackson, who Coogler calls “the most athletic person I’ve ever seen.”
19. To Childish Gambino…
Göransson also worked with Donald Glover on Community and Atlanta, and has produced four records with Glover (as Childish Gambino), as well as “This Is America.”
20. To New Avengers.
Coogler was happy he could get a line of dialogue from New Avengers #22, written by Jonathan Hickman, into the movie: Panther tells Andy Serkis’ Klaue, “Every breath you take is mercy from me.” (Though in the comic, the line is said to a different character–Namor the Sub-Mariner.)
Days before the Black Panther premiere, Chadwick Boseman (who had already been diagnosed with the colon cancer that eventually took his life) messaged Charles Carter to see if he was by chance in America, and invited him to attend. Carter just so happened to be in Vegas at the time, so the friends reunited to watch what Carter had predicted years before: Boseman in his “perfect role.”
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