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How the women of ‘Black Panther’ dealt with loss in preparation for ‘Wakanda Forever.’

For those who worked with Chadwick Boseman on Marvel’s “Black Panther” and saw the void in its new sequel, the loss of Chadwick Boseman is like a punch to the gut.

Audiences responded positively to Boseman’s roles. He portrayed historical figures such as James Brown in “Get On Up” and Jackie Robinson in “42,” as well as dramatic roles in Netflix dramas “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Da 5 Bloods.” But perhaps none surpassed superhero King T’Challa, the fictional African nation of Wakanda, in 2018’s award-winning Marvel film “Black Panther,” which became one of the highest-grossing films of all time in the United States.

So his death on Aug. 28, 2020, at the age of 43, from a battle with colon cancer that was unknown even to his castmates, reverberated around the world and within his inner circle of collaborators.

His “Black Panther” co-stars had to carry on for the sequel “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” finding themselves thrust into the centre of the story in the absence of their intrepid leading man.

“I went through a lot of grief and disillusionment,” Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Wakandan spy and T’Challa’s love interest Nakia, explains, “and just wondering ‘What is life about?’ and ‘How do we move forward?’ and ‘What does it all mean at the end of the day?’ and ‘What is this make-believe, and why is it worthwhile?'”

The film, masterfully directed by Ryan Coogler, reintroduces the women of Wakanda as they grapple with feelings of retribution and resilience in the aftermath of T’Challa’s illness-related death. His onscreen death, like Boseman’s, is abrupt, but the celebration of his life and remembrance of his legacy continues throughout the two hour and 41-minute feature, including a photo and video montage near the beginning that also serves as a moment of silence and a tear-jerking Rihanna ballad that concludes the film.

T’Challa’s scientist sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, says that processing feelings as a group was about “being real with where we were in those stages of grief, and just communicating with one another.”

“We held each other very close and respected what each other would need at different times,” she says.

Each character focuses on a different stage of the healing process. Shuri is devastated by her inability to save her older brother and builds an emotionally impenetrable wall around herself, while her mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), who takes the throne stoically, encourages her to process the loss and feel T’Challa’s spirit. As Dora Milaje Gen. Okoye (Danai Gurira) doubles down on her loyalty to the crown, Nakia withdraws and finds comfort in her new home of Haiti.

But grief takes strange forms.

“Some days, I had a strange sense of being able to move through it, gliding through it, performing the scenes without feeling affected. The next day, you collapse and are just trying to figure out what happened, and Danai would be there to lift me up and encourage me, and vice versa “Wright claims.

How do you get over a loss? The film attempts to answer this question from a variety of perspectives, highlighting the war both externally and internally, in part through a new villain, underwater Talokan kingdom leader Namor (Tenoch Huerta Meja). Namor and Shuri are linked by their centuries-long journey through mourning, as inner rage drives them to want to see the world burn for causing them pain.

It was reassuring for Nyong’o to return for the sequel, as she used her character as a teacher to heal.

“It was reassuring to see how closely art could imitate life,” Nyong’o says. “We meet (Nakia) at a point in her grief process where she is further along than I am. But because I was playing her, I was able to learn from her in invaluable ways.”

Fans’ perceptions of Boseman mirrored how he hoped they would perceive T’Challa: “There’s a hero here that I hope people grow to love,” he said in a 2018 interview with USA TODAY.

Co-stars remember Boseman as a man full of life.

“His presence was so anchoring, and it just made you feel supported and seen, as if you had a brother who had your back,” Gurira says. “It’s always a tragedy to lose someone, but he had a lot of joy in him, and you never knew when or how it would come out.”

According to Gurira, there were “There are so many things I miss about him: his warmth, that hand on your shoulder when he laughed. He was also someone who truly understood, embraced, and invested in the culture of the diaspora. He brought such integrity to it from the start, accent-wise, language-wise,… that type of integrity, specificity, and commitment to his craft was also part of his indelible leadership.”

On set, Boseman’s memory became a driving force. “Even though there were times when we were overcome with the fact that we had lost him, there were also times when his spirit and the way he showed up bolstered us,” Nyong’o says. “In that way, we kept his spirit very much alive.”

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