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Bizarre Things That Happened During Black Panther: Wakanda Forever's Filming

When beloved actor and "Black Panther" star Chadwick Boseman died in 2020, the entertainment world was dealt a shock which it has still yet to fully process. Boseman was by all accounts a beloved human being and an actor with a world-class skill set. As T'Challa, the King of Wakanda, he brought a regality, charisma, and a sly sense of humor that redefined a character who had been a mainstay in the pages of Marvel Comics since the 1960s.

"Black Panther" director Ryan Coogler was so shaken by Boseman's unexpected death that not only did he consider scrapping the in-development, then-untitled "Black Panther 2," he actually mulled over the idea of walking away from directing altogether, according to Entertainment Weekly. But, in a 2021 conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Coogler said that he eventually came around to the idea that Boseman would have wanted the show to go on — and once he did, his troops quickly rallied behind him. With a reworked script and a renewed sense of purpose, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" was set to go before cameras in March 2021 — but as it turned out, the devastating loss of Boseman was only the beginning of the production's troubles.

A delayed start to production

Per The Hollywood Reporter, the sequel to "Black Panther" was originally slated to begin production in March 2021 — and up until about a week before his death in August 2020, Chadwick Boseman had been convinced he would have his superhero physique in shape in time to meet that date. Given so little time to process their loss, get their bearings, and rework the screenplay, though, there was virtually no way that Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole could ever have gotten the production of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" rolling on schedule.

While significant, the delay was actually not quite as long as one might have expected. In June 2021, about three months after the shoot was originally set to have started, "Wakanda Forever" went before the cameras, with the cast and crew determined to honor Boseman's legacy. According to Variety, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige summed up the general attitude nicely at a fan event shortly after the commencement of filming. "It's clearly very emotional without Chad," he said. "But everyone is also very excited to bring the world of Wakanda back ... We're going to do it in a way that would make Chad proud." Unfortunately, though, another key member of the "Black Panther" team was out of the game before it even started.

Ryan Coogler lost his longtime cinematographer

Cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who had previously worked with Coogler on his debut feature "Fruitvale Station" and on "Black Panther," had planned to sew up her own directorial debut, "Flint Strong," in time to join the production of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" in early 2021. Unfortunately, the pandemic, as it had done with so many other things, interfered with those plans.

Speaking with IndieWire in August 2020, Morrison lamented that "Flint Strong" had been shut down indefinitely after only two days (out of a scheduled 41) of filming. She expressed at that time that the delay might mean missing out on "Wakanda Forever" — and indeed, it was announced as the film began production that Morrison had been replaced with Autumn Durald Arkapaw. While she had never worked with Coogler before, Arkapaw had acquitted herself nicely serving as Director of Photography on all six episodes of the acclaimed Marvel series "Loki" (per Discussing Film), and she would bring a unique visual style to "Wakanda Forever." 

Speaking at the EnergaCameriage cinematography film festival in October 2022 (via The Credits), Arkapaw opened up about joining the production late in the game. "You're paying homage to an individual but also a character that was beloved, and every person and head of department that came before me worked very hard on the first one," she said. "And so, game on, on the second one to do it justice." 

An accident caused not-so-minor injuries to Letitia Wright

Only a couple months into the production of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," a disaster struck which threatened to seriously derail the film. In August 2021, it was reported that lead actress Letitia Wright (who portrays Shuri, the younger sister of the late King T'Challa) had been involved in an on-set accident which saw her sustain minor injuries and endure a brief hospitalization. At the time, outlets such as Deadline were relaying that Wright was supposed to be back in action soon, and that the incident wouldn't affect the film's shooting schedule — but this was not quite the case.

In November 2022, it was revealed that Wright's injuries were much more serious than initially disclosed (via Variety). She suffered a fractured shoulder and severe concussion, among other injuries, and she spent months recuperating at her home in London. This, of course, necessitated that Coogler and his crew shoot any and all Shuri-less scenes that they could while their star recovered from her injuries — but as if that situation didn't complicate matters enough, another unfortunate situation was developing around Wright, one which couldn't be fixed with a few tweaks to the film's schedule.

A lead actress suddenly mired in controversy

In October 2021, while the cast and crew of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" were busily working around the absence of Letitia Wright, the actress found herself at the center of a firestorm on social media. According to The Guardian, Wright retweeted a video of a controversial pastor railing against COVID vaccines, and for good measure, spreading some blatantly bigoted transphobic rhetoric. Wright had also been rumored to be spreading anti-vax sentiment on the set of "Wakanda Forever" (via The Hollywood Reporter), and while she later posted a retraction of sorts on Instagram, a considerable amount of damage to her reputation had already been done.

In her conversation with the Guardian in November 2022, Wright answered questions about the situation rather tersely. "I feel it's something I experienced two years ago and I have ... moved on," she said. "And in a healthy way I've apologized, and deleted my Twitter." Asked if she was worried that her millions of fans had come to think of her as a reactionary anti-vaxxer, she stated she isn't, and reiterated that she had apologized. It's interesting to note, though, that her vaccination status is still unclear. Asked point blank if she had been vaccinated, she responded, "Next question. Thanks."

The loss of a tribal elder

Among all of the acclaimed thespians to take part in "Black Panther," there are surely a wealth of interesting life stories to be told — but perhaps none so interesting as that of Dorothy Steel, who played the bit part of a Wakandan tribal elder in the film. Steel was not exactly a Hollywood veteran; she had landed her first role in the short-lived TV series "The Trouble with Going Somewhere" in 2015. At the time, she was 88 years old, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Speaking with WSB-TV in 2018, Steel admitted that she never would have seen her late-in-life acting career coming. "If anyone would have told me I would be an actor, I would've said you got to be out of your mind," she said. But, after seeing her work in a previous production, Marvel execs gave her a call — and an hour after sending in her audition tape, she was cast. She's since appeared in such films as 2019's "Jumanji: The Next Level" and the 2020 historical drama "Emperor," and at the age of 95, she intended to make "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" her final role (via Yahoo! News). Unfortunately, she ended up not having a choice in the matter. Steel died during the movie's production in October 2021, doubtlessly causing emotions to run even higher on what was already an emotionally-charged set.

A dark, wet shoot in a small town in Georgia

In November 2021, it was reported by The Seattle Medium that a sizable film production, operating under the working title "Summer Break," had arrived to shoot scenes on the waterfront of a small Georgia town called Brunswick. It was rumored (and the rumors were true) that this production was "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" — and that working title turned out be to be just a bit on the ironic side.

Per The Brunswick News, the waterfront work brought a lot of activity to the tiny town. Michael Torras, manager of the Brunswick Landing Marina, told reporters that the locals shouldn't expect to see much action, as the shoot would be taking place mostly at night — in the cold, dark water. Said locals were, however, treated to the unusual sight of a 300-foot cruise ship cozying up to the downtown area, which likely isn't the kind of thing they usually see at the town's little marina. Of course, given that iconic Marvel character Namor and his undersea kingdom of Talokan figure prominently into the movie's story, it was inevitable that the cast and crew would be spending plenty of time getting wet — but this, in and of itself, presented its own unique challenges.

Ryan Coogler had to learn how to swim

As you may be aware, swimming pools were among the public spaces where Black folks and other people of color have historically been excluded throughout America's shameful period of segregation and beyond, as described by USA Today. This has had a lasting impact on many such communities, with a significant number of people having never learned to swim — and this included Ryan Coogler, star Lupita Nyong'o, and much of the cast of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Coogler was cognizant of the fact that this was an obstacle to be overcome before production began. Speaking with Variety in November 2022, Coogler joked that his swimming skills prior to the shoot consisted of merely knowing how to "stay alive" in the water. But, he reasoned, if the director wasn't willing to get himself wet, the cast and crew could hardly be expected to dive in, so to speak. "If the camera's in the water, actors are in the water, I've got to be in there too," he said, explaining that it was a "wild feeling" being in the deep water at first, until he got comfortable with the notion of inflating his lungs to increase flotation. 

Nyong'o revealed that she was "not a confident swimmer" before shooting the movie, but the deep-dive and breath control training provided by the film's consultants helped. Now, Nyong'o says that all of that trouble was worth it, and that she ended up being glad that she was able to acquire "a lifelong skill."

Wright's return to the set was complicated by the CDC

Meanwhile, Letitia Wright's recovery was still ongoing — and in November of 2021, there arose yet another complication. Like we previously mentioned, it had been widely speculated due to her social media dustup over vaccines that the actress may have been, shall we say, reluctant to receive the COVID shot. This became a factor when the Centers for Disease Control issued new guidelines for foreign travelers entering the U.S., stating that they would need to be vaccinated before being granted entry.

This presented a problem for Wright, who is not a U.S. citizen. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, due to a combination of a lengthier-than-expected recovery and her unclear vaccination status, Wright's absence ended up being a longer one than was comfortable for Ryan Coogler and crew. Wright's rep issued a statement simply stating that Wright was still healing up from her injury, and looked forward to being back on set in early 2022 — but in the meantime, Coogler was quickly running out of meaningful work to do in her absence.

The production ran out of Wright-free scenes to shoot

At that same time in November 2021, it was reported by outlets such as The Hollywood Reporter that, during the prior two months of shooting in Atlanta, Coogler had been heroically coping with the Letitia Wright-sized hole that had been punched in his production. By that time, however, the well had run dry — he had literally shot every scene he was able to without Wright, and as a result, the production would have to shut down until her return.

The already-troubled shoot paused until January 2022 when, true to Wright's word (well, that of her publicist, at any rate), Wright made her return to the set, per BBC News. In November 2022, she finally opened up about just how traumatic and difficult her injury and recovery were; she had been shooting a scene on a moving motorcycle, and when the camera rig clipped a median, it sent the bike tumbling down the concrete with Wright still aboard. Speaking with Variety, the actress disclosed that she was "still processing" the incident in therapy, and that she had needed continued medical support (especially as pertained to her concussion) even after her return to the shoot. She praised the resilience of the cast and crew for how they handled the situation and supported her after her return, but unfortunately, getting their lead actress back did not portend the end of troubles for "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Ryan Coogler was arrested in a bizarre mix-up

Mere days before Letitia Wright finally made it back to the set, Ryan Coogler was involved in a snafu that, while not production-related, raised plenty of eyebrows (not to mention ire) across the entirety of Hollywood. According to The Guardian, in early January 2022, Coogler walked into a branch of his bank and requested a withdrawal. Considering the fact that the amount was rather large, and that Coogler is a celebrity, he opted to attempt to be low-key about the whole thing, presenting the teller with a note: "I would like to withdraw $12,000 cash from my checking account. Please do the money count somewhere else. I'd like to be discreet."

Somehow, an alarm was triggered, and bank employees called the police. They detained Coogler and two companions, a driver and a nurse, who had been waiting for him outside the bank, holding them at gunpoint before handcuffing them for 10 to 15 minutes — at which point they apparently realized they were making a huge mistake (via Variety). The situation rightfully resulted in a huge backlash on social media; podcaster Touré, for example, tweeted, "Ryan Coogler is very fortunate that he was able to stay calm while being wrongly arrested in his own bank while asking for his own money. It would be very understandable for him to have gotten upset and if he had he could've lost his life." For his part, Coogler was remarkably diplomatic about the whole thing. He issued a statement simply saying that the bank had apologized, and that he had moved on from the incident.

The pandemic slapped Wakanda Forever with another delay

As it happened, the surge of the Omicron variant of COVID was in full swing in January 2022, which meant that upon Wright's triumphant return, the resumption of shooting didn't last long. Mere days after Wright arrived back on set, it was reported that the production of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" was shutting down once again, due to a breakout of the dreaded variant on set (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Lupita Nyong'o was among those to fall ill, and Ryan Coogler and crew could only take solace in the fact that their shoot was far from the only one affected. As Hollywood productions ramped up across the board in late 2021 (per The New York Post), the appearance of the Omicron variant threw a huge monkey wrench into Tinseltown's tentative comeback from the havoc wreaked by the previous strains of the virus. The series "Star Trek: Picard," for example, had to pause after north of 50 cast and crew tested positive, and production on the venerable CBS series "NCIS" likewise took a break due to safety concerns. Fortunately, the shutdown was a relatively brief one — at the end of March 2022, it was finally confirmed by several crew members on social media that "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" had wrapped principal photography (via MovieWeb).

An unexpected assist from a superstar

For a shoot as fraught with difficulties as that of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," it was only fitting that the final unexpected surprise that the production encountered be a pleasant one. As veteran composer Ludwig Göransson (who had also worked on the first film) was researching and assembling the film's score, superstar Rihanna — who had last released an album of original material in 2016 — suddenly came on board to contribute the film's theme song.

The song, titled "Lift Me Up," is stirring and a fitting piece for inclusion in the film — which only makes sense, as Göransson wrote the tune with Ryan Coogler and produced the recording, per Yahoo! News. Of Rihanna's involvement, Göransson said that Rihanna's current place in life (she recently became a new mother) meshed well with the movie's themes of motherhood and family. "It felt like the timing of it all just felt very magical," Göransson shared, saying that his time in the studio finishing the song with Rihanna felt like a satisfying piece of closure, like "seeing how that final piece of the puzzle came together." 

According to Vibe, the tune debuted at #1 across several Billboard charts — and likewise, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" opened to positive reviews and a stellar box office debut. It may not have been an easy journey, but the Marvel faithful have shown their gratitude to the cast and crew with their wallets — and the film turned out to be perhaps the most emotionally satisfying outing of Marvel's Phase 4, which is all Coogler and his cast could have wanted.