Image: Marvel Studios
When behind-the-scenes reporting and fan anticipation collide
Marvel fans awaiting Black Panther: Wakanda Forever can breathe a little easier knowing the movie is back on track. After five months of recovery due to an on-set injury, actor Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has returned to set, Wright’s team confirmed to Technovanguard. The Guyanese-born British actor suffered a critical shoulder fracture while filming an action scene in Boston in August 2021, though shooting soldiered on without her until November, when it was ultimately suspended. Now production on the Black Panther sequel has resumed, and according to the actor’s reps, “We’re on schedule.”
But still, for anyone invested in the future of the MCU, there’s a lot riding on Wakanda Forever, which is set to be released Nov. 11. The original movie grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide, and became a genuine cultural phenomenon. But a tragic hole remains at the center of the Black Panther sequel after the death of T’Challa actor Chadwick Boseman in 2020. There’s uncertainty in how writer-director Ryan Coogler will refocus the franchise, which is set to encompass Wakanda Forever and a Disney Plus spinoff set in the futuristic African nation. The concern is not only about box office, but also propping up a superheroic mantle that means so much to so many people.
Wright was likely to play a key role in how the Black Panther franchise progressed after Boseman’s death, though behind-the-scenes reports have only intensified the pressure around the new, unknown dynamics. In November, around the time Black Panther: Wakanda Forever shut down, a report in The Hollywood Reporter said that Wright’s choice to abstain from being vaccinated against COVID-19 was creating logistical challenges for Marvel. On the heels of the news, part of a larger report on COVID-affected productions, unsubstantiated reports emerged from fan accounts suggesting that the ending of Wakanda Forever was being rewritten due to frustrations with the actor’s behavior.
Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images The cast of Black Panther at the 91st Annual Academy Awards, with Wright second from left.
This all arrived a year after Wright herself stoked controversy on Twitter by sharing a 69-minute video of minister Tomi Arayomi, who said in the video that he hoped the COVID-19 vaccine “doesn’t make extra limbs grow.” While the video was deleted from YouTube, Arayomi said in a follow-up that it was “controversial because it dared people to question something that Don Cheadle is very much against.” Wright’s fellow MCU star had said on Twitter that Arayomi’s video “sounded crazy and fkked up,” and that he would “never defend” anyone posting a video of its nature, although he noted that he preferred to take such discussions offline.
Wright, for her part, responded to pushback to the video by saying, “if you don’t conform to popular opinions. but ask questions and think for yourself….you get cancelled.” She later apologized, saying, “my intention was not to hurt anyone, my ONLY intention of posting the video was it raised my concerns with what the vaccine contains and what we are putting in our bodies . . . Nothing else.” That message came in a tweet on Dec. 4, 2020. The next day, Wright deleted her Twitter account, along with the rest of her social media.
While the MCU often looks like one big, happy family — most recently in the “brotherhood” formed by Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield, and Tobey Maguire on the set of Spider-Man: No Way Home — reports suggest strife behind the scenes on the Black Panther sequel. Additional reporting from The Hollywood Reporter suggested that “in Wright’s case, a set source says she has espoused similar views about the COVID-19 vaccines on the Atlanta production” of Wakanda Forever. Wright responded by saying the story was “completely untrue.”
The murky behind-the-scenes controversy has only become more muddled by fan reports claiming insider access. But for Marvel, this is par for the course. While reports of “significant” reshoots on this summer’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness were immediately downplayed as routine Marvel maintenance, fans immediately theorized what it could mean for the finished product and its impact on the MCU. Many called for Shuri to be recast. Wright’s social media presence combined with, by all accounts, a severe injury led to similarly cavalier theorizing, blurring the line between objective understanding of a situation and galaxy-brain fan dreaming.
But through all the ups and downs, Disney and Marvel have remained consistent: Wakanda is forever, as far as the MCU is concerned. Beyond the sequel’s specific story, Wakanda has become a regular location for Marvel characters. It’s where Bucky Barnes entered cryostasis after the events of Civil War, and where the Avengers stood with the Dora Milaje, the Jabari Tribe, and the rest of Wakanda’s subcultures. It’s a place that Marvel wants to remain relevant, which is why Disney tweeted that the movie “will explore the world of Wakanda & the rich characters introduced in the first film.”
It’s undeniable that the production of Wakanda Forever has taken several twists, some of them tragic and others representative of the COVID fights that have gripped society. All MCU movies have big expectations from their inception; they must both tell a compelling story on their own and connect to the greater cinematic universe. But Wakanda Forever will have the additional challenges of rising above the off-screen noise as well as paying homage to a king gone far too soon.