‘Black Panther:’ Chadwick Boseman Talks African History & Avoiding Stereotypes

Chadwick Boseman wasn't really aware of the impact of Black Panther or his portrayal of the character in Captain America 3 until Marvel's Hall H panel.

Black Panther Movie

Chadwick Boseman wasn’t really aware of the impact of Black Panther or his portrayal of the character in Captain America: Civil War until Marvel’s epic Hall H panel at Comic-Con last Saturday, which tells me this guy doesn’t run his own Twitter account to see his mentions inundated with #BlackPantherSoLIT. The day after the rapturous response for director Ryan Coogler and the cast of his Black Panther solo film and with its release one more Comic-Con away, io9 asked Boseman about the character, his approach and the impact T’Challa has already had.

He wanted to avoid stereotypes and typical tropes associated with black characters. He was very protective of T’Challa’s motivations throughout the making of Civil War, keeping his focus on Black Panther’s motivation (namely, misguided revenge on Bucky)

“Well, he’s there for his own purpose. He’s not there… usually what happens is “well, he did this in this scene and now he’s doing [something else contradictory] and that doesn’t even fit the character.” That’s the Magical Negro thing. But, I think we were very cognizant about making a character that had his own through-line, his own intent and he wasn’t going to waver for anybody else’s story. Anytime that I felt like that was about to happen, I’d be like ‘nah, this is what he wants. You can do whatever you wanna do but this is what I feel like he needs to be doing.’ I feel like that’s the key. I think the main thing is just keeping it very clear that he has his own arc and his own things that he wants and desires. He only changes that when something strikes a chord at his core. It strikes a chord at what I think is his lineage and heritage and what he’s been taught, at what he’s been groomed to be. He can’t make that shift at the end of the movie unless he’s been groomed to make that shift already. And even though we don’t see that grooming, that’s actually the first glimpse into Wakanda before you see that tag at the very end.”

The actor said he knew how important the character was to mass audiences, particularly people of African descent and their history would influence the film and its fictional country of Wakanda.

“There are a lot of different things to pull from. You can look to all these different civilizations that existed in Africa. The Egyptians. The Mali, who are believed to have been a satellite nation of ancient Kemet. The Zulu. You can go so many different places. It could be Ethiopia, which went a long time without being conquered as well. So, just pulling from all those things and finding an attachment and a pride to them and then being very specific and doing my own DNA test and finding where I come from, what my ancestry is. Once you have the role, people want to give you things. People will reach out and say “hey, I want to train you” or “hey, I want you to meet this babalao who wants to read you.” I’m being approached with all types of things that have been helpful to the process.”

Like Coogler, Boseman is interested in the political side of King T’Challa as well as the superhero side of Black Panther.

“The thing that I like the most is him being challenged, taking criticism and finding a way to keep his focus and intent intact despite those criticisms. That’s what world leaders have to do. If you waver too much, if you give things away… sometimes you do have to give things away. You might give away something that you intended to give away to make it seem like you’re being accommodating. I think it’s that strategy and strength that I like. It’s not necessarily his physical attributes or anything like that. It’s his mind and being able to maneuver as a leader.”

This matches with the professed influence of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s current acclaimed run that examines the politics of identity and gender in Wakanda. Black Panther starring Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira hits theaters February 16, 2018.


Sam Flynn

Sam Flynn

Sam is a writer and journalist whose passion for pop culture burns with the fire of a thousand suns and at least three LED lamps.