Opinion: Disney Made the Right Decision to Not Replace Chadwick Boseman in “Wakanda Forever”

Joel Eisenberg

In 2020, Disney announced the late Chadwick Boseman would not be replaced in his iconic role as The Black Panther. Two year later, did the decision prove to be right for business?

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Chadwick Boseman “Black Panther” Publicity PhotoPhoto byMarvel Studios

There was a cataclysm in fandom in 2020. See details, courtesy of Apple News, here,

To summarize: As Chadwick Boseman is deceased, so too, officially, is King T’Challa, the Black Panther, from the current timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

During Disney’s December 10, 2020 investor call, Marvel Studios boss Keven Feige said the following about the late actor, who passed away from colon cancer on August 28 at the age of 43:

“His portrayal of T’Challa, the Black Panther, is iconic and transcends any iteration of the character in any other medium. And it’s for that reason that we will not recast the character. However, to honor the legacy that Chad helped us build through his portrayal of the kingdom of Wakanda, we want to continue to explore the world of Wakanda and all of the rich and varied characters introduced in the first film.”

The news immediately trended on social media. I posted word on my Facebook and the reactions ranged from agreement to seething anger. I stand by my position: Disney made a bold decision of which I wholeheartedly approve.

Though the sequel, “Wakanda Forever,” is on the verge of a $400 million domestic gross (so far) and perhaps weeks away from $1 billion globally — numbers courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com — it will likely fall short of its history-making predecessor on a financial basis. Still, the story continues to strong monetary success.

As to my thoughts on not replacing Boseman, pro and con…

Pros

  • King T’Challa will live on in other media. The character and/or Boseman’s likeness will continue to be not only merchandised, but exploited in comic books and other ventures.
  • To the largest extent possible, should this decision stand in future films, it will represent — in my opinion — arguably the greatest show of respect of perhaps any actor in the industry’s history by a major film studio. This is not something to ignore.
  • Nor, frankly, should it be ignored that Boseman was a black man. Again, especially during this period in our history, the level of respect accorded to him by Disney is an outstanding gesture that should be applauded.
  • I cannot speak on this with any authority, but the following is a quote from Erlanger Turner, noted researcher and assistant professor of Psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown:
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EditorialPhoto byTwitter.com

I will state the obvious that Boseman was a major cog in the film’s reputation.

  • Boseman’s reputation as an outstanding actor who delivered among the most widely acclaimed roles in modern film history — for a film based on a comic series — will never go away. His legacy, inclusive of not only “Black Panther” but the collective of his artistic endeavors, will continue to be celebrated. Perhaps many who were unfamiliar with the actor prior to his most known role will actively seek out his other performances, such as Netflix’s release of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” based on August Wilson’s play, for which Boseman was Oscar-nominated.

Cons

  • Iconic pop-culture characters such as Superman, Batman, James Bond, Albus Dumbledore and innumerable others have been portrayed on film and/or television with replacement actors continuing equivalent fictional time periods. Why should Boseman not be replaced?
  • Boseman only made one “Black Panther” film (though he appeared in the role first in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” and later in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame”). As King T’Challa has become such an important cog in the Marvel wheelhouse, surely the character should remain and be played by another.
  • Actors act. Boseman acted largely in fiction. Fictional characters remain, and their continuity should not be swayed by the death of one who portrayed fictional roles.
  • Replacing Boseman does not mean he will ever be forgotten. It simply means a role he made famous will continue.
  • “Disney took the easy way out.” I’ve heard this more than once. I’d like to know “how,” but for this purpose let’s take the comment on its surface.

My Opinion

Kudos to Disney for having the courage to honor an actor to this degree. As King T’Challa will live on in stories presented over the ensuing decades in other media, to my mind we’re having our cake and eating it too. Pardon the cliche.

Though, again, Boseman was a major cog in the reputation of “Black Panther,” he was not the only cog. A combination of unique storytelling and characters propelled the film; the sheer spectacle, color, costumes, settings and effects elevated it still further. Every technical and creative element in this product was on fire, and both critically and commercially the globe responded accordingly.

Yes, some could very easily and legitimately state this is fair reason why Boseman should have been replaced, as the success of the film was not entirely on his shoulders.

I’ll take that argument.

Ditto “Generations of kids will miss out on a great character!” No, they will not, for reasons already expressed. And, if Disney does step back, they can always include a younger version of the character, in other adventures, as played by another actor.

Taking everything into consideration, I’ll end with this: The pros of Disney’s decision far outweighed the cons.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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