Ryan Coogler on the Significance of Namor’s ‘Wakanda Forever’ Introduction

Eric Goldman
Movies Comics
Movies Comics Marvel MCU

It may be the 30th MCU film, but Black Panther: Wakanda Forever arrives with a feeling of significance that makes it far more than simply the newest Marvel movie fans are excited for. The first Black Panther was a big milestone, achieving not only massive box office success but also critical adoration — not to mention its nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards — and a sense of genuine cultural impact that was quite different from your standard hit superhero movie.

All of which would create this a notably anticipated movie no matter what, but there’s now also the weight added to the movie by the tragic loss of the first film’s star, Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in 2020. In the wake of Boseman’s passing, returning co-writer/director Ryan Coogler re-crafted his initial Wakanda Forever script into something different. Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole retained the elements of Wakanda going to war with Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and his underwater race, but incorporated Boseman’s death into the story by having his beloved alter ego, T’Challa, also pass away, in a movie that now involves those he left behind trying to process their grief and find their way forward – while also reflecting just how important and inspiring the legacy of the Black Panther is.

Aided by questions submitted by the community at the Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki, Fandom spoke to Coogler, along with Danai Gurira (“Okoye”), about returning for Wakanda Forever, introducing a character with the deep history of Namor, notable aspects of the story like Riri Williams/Ironheart’s role, the potential to explore Okoye’s unknown past, and honoring the legacy of Chadwick Boseman.

THE SUB-MARINER ARRIVES

Tenoch Huerta as Namor in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'

“How did you decide to add Namor to the story? And how did you guys decide to change his mythos and create him related to Mayan culture?” – Marvelus

Regarding bringing Namor, AKA the Sub-Mariner, into the story, Coogler said, first off, there was one easy reason, exclaiming, “He’s awesome! Any co-writer or director who got a possibility to put in their movie, I think, would jump on it. He’s arguably the oldest Marvel character and one of the oldest comic book characters. He just has a interesting backstory.”

As Marvelus mentioned, Namor has been given a bit of an overhaul in the film. Instead of being from Atlantis, as in the comics, he is from the underwater city of Talokan, leading his people, the Talokanil, whose roots are tied to the Mayans. Regarding the changes to Namor’s background, Coogler remarked, “The cultural significance aspect of it, the cultural specificity, that came from just him being a character in a Black Panther movie. That’s something that is a part of what that first movie is, and we knew it would be a big part of what this second one would be. It would be symmetry in the series and we knew we wanted to expand the conversation. I’m from California, that’s where I was born and raised, and, obviously, in the Americas, there’s some deep similarities between the cultures and the histories of native peoples in this part of the world and native individuals from the continent. So we realized quickly that it made the most sense to look there for inspiration.”

Tenoch Huerta as Namor in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'

On top of that, Coogler said they didn’t want to feel like they were mimicking what other films had done with Atlantis, explaining, “We want this movie to be able to exist in a world with all the other representations of that concept that are out there. I love Aquaman, for instance, and you’ve got Disney’s Atlantis cartoon that came out when I was younger. A lot of explorations on this idea usually pulls from Plato’s Atlantis, this kind of Greco-Roman concept. We wanted to open it up a bit, really out of honour for the audience so they can obtain a different flavor when they come to see our movie.”

There are sowever numerous good Marvel characters who’ve never been seen in live-action, but in sure ways, Namor feels like the last of a sure tier, in terms of his longevity, power, and importance to the company and its history. After all, he not only was in the very first comic book produced by Timely Comics (the company that would finally be named Marvel), the appropriately titled Marvel Comics #1, but as Coogler referenced when he called him “arguably the oldest Marvel character,” that original Sub-Mariner story by Bill Everett was in fact created even earlier for the never officially released Motion Picture Funnies Weekly giveaway comic.

Ryan Coogler speaks onstage during the 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' Red Carpet Screening at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Coogler said he felt honored to be able to introduce the character into the MCU, agreeing he has, “Major, major significance. Namor is a character who just pops off the page. He’s the inspiration for a lot of characters that exist in pop culture. I just feel an amazing sense of gratitude. I was in the theater at the Arclight in Hollywood when Iron Man opened, and I was a movie student; I was a movie student that had just started. The idea that Kevin [Feige] and Lou [D’Esposito] and Victoria [Alonso] would trust me with bringing Namor to life cinematically as a co-writer and director, it’s just mind boggling, man, because that wasn’t a long time ago. It’s not missing on me. It’s not missing on me one bit.”

AUDIENCE IMPACT

(L-R): Danai Gurira as Okoye and Letitia Wright as Shuri in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'

“The first Black Panther movie was very inspirational and moving, which is a compliment to Ryan and the entire cast. With Wakanda Forever, what do you hope the audience gets from seeing this film?” – MarvelSharky

Black Panther was a major cinematic experience for so numerous and Gurira said, of how she hopes audiences feel after seeing Wakanda Forever, “I hope there’s a sense of comfort that they receive.”

With Chadwick Boseman’s loss factoring so strongly into the film, Gurira explained, “We definitely did this to honor our brother who we lost, and to honor the legacy he created and that he gave so much to in terms of making the first movie what it was. And so I hope that they experience that and also a really amazing narrative. I think that there’ll be a hope that there’s a resonance there that’s unexpected and enjoyable at the same time. That there’s a comfort there, as they go through this process of grief with the narrative itself.”

Coogler said he’d love if audiences who felt moved in such a manner by the first Black Panther feel the same about Wakanda Forever, remarking, “I think if the movie was inspirational and moving for that audience member, my biggest hope was that this one will provide those same feelings, but in a different way.”

SHE IS IRONHEART

Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams/Ironheart in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'

Namor and his individuals aren’t the only Marvel character introduced in Wakanda Forever, as the story also includes a prominent role for Riri Williams, AKA Ironheart (Dominique Thorne), the teenage genius who creates her own armored suit to rival Iron Man’s.

Not only does Riri debut in the movie but she also has her own series coming to Disney+, with Thorne starring in Ironheart, where the character will face off with Anthony Ramos as The Hood. Coogler is also an Executive Producer on Ironheart and described introducing her into the MCU in the movie as, “An amazing opportunity. In speaking of grief and loss, Tony Stark in this world is gone. And in the comics, Riri was an awesome character that came up in publishing in terms of taking up that Iron Man mantle and finally created her own mantle with Ironheart and it made a lot of sense for her to be in this film.”

Coogler elaborated that Riri’s role also helped strengthen a returning character, Letitia Wright‘s Shuri, noting, “More than anything, it kind of goes with the coming of age nature of Shuri’s story, where she was kind of the mentee in her relationship with her older brother and this movie kind of sees her taking on a mentor role [with Riri].”

OKOYE’S PATH

Danai Gurira as Okoye in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'

“There have been suggestions that Okoye could perhaps be part of a Disney+ series. If something like that were to happen, do you think there are any areas of Okoye’s life you would especially like to explore in greater detail in a series?” – BEJT

Not surprisingly, as with anything not yet officially announced by Disney and Marvel Studios, Coogler couldn’t remark on the reports that in addition to Ironheart, he also will be an EP on a Wakanda-set series for Disney+.

However, Gurira did say that if such a show were to happen and if Okoye was a part of it, “There’s so much to explore. We don’t know a ton about her, really. We don’t know her background. We don’t know what got her to this point. We don’t know what she’s trying to do now at the end of this movie. Who is she? What is she doing? What’s she up to?” Gurira noted she’d love to explore all of those aspects of the character.

(L-R): Danai Gurira as Okoye and Angela Bassett as Ramonda in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'

One thing that stands out about Okoye is that she was not snapped away by Thanos and Avengers: Endgame indicates that during the five year time jump in that film, she kept down the fort in numerous ways for Wakanda and the world at large, including working with an Avengers team alongside Black Widow, War Machine, Rocket Raccoon, Nebula, and Captain Marvel.

Asked if she ponders this period in Okoye’s life, Gurira replied, “Yeah, I do. And I think it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t fun at all. But she had to and there was no way she wasn’t going to do all she could to keep stability during this time.”

CHADWICK FOREVER

Chadwick Boseman in 2018's 'Black Panther'

“What was your favorite thing about Chadwick while working with him?” – Antonyg177

As mentioned, the far too early death of Chadwick Boseman is reflected throughout Wakanda Forever, as the characters mourn the loss of T’Challa, and by extension, Coogler and his cast and collaborators mourn the loss of their friend and colleague.

Describing what it was like working with Boseman, Gurira said, “I just loved his energy. He was a very zen guy and very calm and grounded and very generous. If you went to him and wanted to talk to him about your character, he would be right there with you and help you through it. Simultaneously, he was very funny and you just never knew when he was going to absolutely crack you up, or what he was going to find absolutely hilarious. He just always had just this beautiful energy that really resonated and really chilled out everyone around him.”

Danai Gurira and Chadwick Boseman in 2018's 'Black Panther'

Coogler said the question of his favorite thing about working with Boseman was a difficult one to answer, because, “There’s so numerous wonderful things. Working with Chadwick changed my life. He impacted my life professionally but his professional impact on my life was dwarfed by the personal impact on my life. He impacted my personal life beyond measure. The way I see myself, the way I see the world… And he taught me a lot of things. Even in his death, he was sowever teaching me. He’s sowever teaching me today. The fact that he trusted me and he believed him, a guy that good and an artist that skilled… Chad was older than me by a few years, so he was kind of like an older brother. He was so trusting of me. He had a belief in me that was unlike any actor I’ve ever worked with.”

Coogler added, of working with his friend and frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan (the two have made Fruitvale Station, Creed, and Black Panther together) compared to Boseman, “Mike was the closest, but Mike and I have made a bunch of stuff together. We learned to believe in each other through experience. With Chad, that was our first time working together and he just had this faith that I didn’t even have in myself. So I think that was one of the biggest professional gifts that he gave me, I would say. Now, when I work and I have instincts, it’s like, ‘Man, well, Chad believed in me, so it’s gotta be worth something.’”

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens November 11.


Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.