‘Black Panther’ Director Ryan Coogler Writes Emotional Memorial to Chadwick Boseman
Chadwick Boseman died on Aug. 28. His family announced he was battling colon cancer since 2016 but had not shared his diagnosis. Over the weekend, Hollywood and fans reacted to what was sudden news. Ryan Coogler, who directed Boseman in Black Panther, wrote 1250 words, beginning with condolences to Boseman’s family. Showbiz Cheat Sheet received a copy of Coogler’s statement via Walt Disney.
Chadwick Boseman’s ‘Civil War’ performance convinced Ryan Coogler to direct ‘Black Panther’
Coogler begins by discussing his decision to direct Black Panther. The Russo Brothers and Marvel had already cast Boseman as T’Challa in Captian America: Civil War. The film had not opened yet when Marvel was moving forward with a Black Panther solo movie.
“I’ll never forget, sitting in an editorial suite on the Disney Lot and watching his scenes,” Coogler wrote. “His first with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, then, with the South African cinema titan, John Kani as T’Challa’s father, King T’Chaka. It was at that moment I knew I wanted to make this movie.”
Boseman and Kani’s African dialogue sealed the deal.
“After Scarlett’s character leaves them, Chad and John began conversing in a language I had never heard before,” Coogler said. “It sounded familiar, full of the same clicks and smacks that young black children would make in the States. The same clicks that we would often be chided for being disrespectful or improper. But, it had a musicality to it that felt ancient, powerful, and African.”
Coogler later learned that they were speaking Xhosa, Kani’s native language. Coogler also marveled at Boseman’s dedication to give T’Challa an African accent.
“I thought to myself, ‘He just learned lines in another language, that day?’” Coogler said. “I couldn’t conceive how difficult that must have been, and even though I hadn’t met Chad, I was already in awe of his capacity as actor.”
Ryan Coogler met Chadwick Boseman at the ‘Creed’ press junket
Before Black Panther, Coogler rebooted the Rocky saga with Creed. It was during Coogler’s promotional tour for Creed that he met Boseman.
“He snuck past journalists that were congregated for a press junket I was doing for Creed, and met with me in the green room,” Coogler said. “We talked about our lives, my time playing football in college, and his time at Howard studying to be a director, about our collective vision for T’Challa and Wakanda. We spoke about the irony of how his former Howard classmate Ta-Nehisi Coates was writing T’Challa’s current arc with Marvel Comics. And how Chad knew Howard student Prince Jones, who’s murder by a police officer inspired Coates’ memoir Between The World and Me.”
Boseman made a good first impression on Coogler.
“I noticed then that Chad was an anomaly,” Coogler said. “He was calm. Assured. Constantly studying. But also kind, comforting, had the warmest laugh in the world, and eyes that seen much beyond his years, but could still sparkle like a child seeing something for the first time.”
Chadwick Boseman considered ‘Black Panther’ to be ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’
Coogler recalled Boseman’s commitment on set. The actor was thinking of the big picture.
“When preparing for the film, he would ponder every decision, every choice, not just for how it would reflect on himself, but how those choices could reverberate,” Coogler wrote. “‘They not ready for this, what we are doing…’ ‘This is Star Wars, this is Lord of the Rings, but for us… and bigger!’ He would say this to me while we were struggling to finish a dramatic scene, stretching into double overtime. Or while he was covered in body paint, doing his own stunts. Or crashing into frigid water, and foam landing pads.”
Perhaps Boseman had foresight Coogler couldn’t yet comprehend.
“I would nod and smile, but I didn’t believe him,” Coogler admitted. “But I look back and realize that Chad knew something we all didn’t. He was playing the long game. All while putting in the work. And work he did.”
Chadwick Boseman was there for every costar and every ‘Black Panther’ department
Coogler went on to describe Boseman’s presence for his co-stars.
“He would come to auditions for supporting roles, which is not common for lead actors in big budget movies,” Coogler said. “He was there for several M’Baku auditions. In Winston Duke’s, he turned a chemistry read into a wrestling match. Winston broke his bracelet. In Letitia Wright’s audition for Shuri, she pierced his royal poise with her signature humor, and would bring about a smile to T’Challa’s face that was 100% Chad.”
Boseman was there for Coogler and other filmmakers too.
“While filming the movie, we would meet at the office or at my rental home in Atlanta, to discuss lines and different ways to add depth to each scene,” Coogler said. “We talked costumes, military practices. He said to me ‘Wakandans have to dance during the coronations. If they just stand there with spears, what separates them from Romans?’ In early drafts of the script. Eric Killmonger’s character would ask T’Challa to be buried in Wakanda. Chad challenged that and asked, what if Killmonger asked to be buried somewhere else?”
Ryan Coogler never knew about Chadwick Boseman’s illness either
Boseman’s family released a statement confirming that Boseman had been making movies from 2016 to 2020 in between surgeries and chemotherapy. This is how Coogler learned too.
“Chad deeply valued his privacy, and I wasn’t privy to the details of his illness,” Coogler said. “After his family released their statement, I realized that he was living with his illness the entire time I knew him. Because he was a caretaker, a leader, and a man of faith, dignity and pride, he shielded his collaborators from his suffering. He lived a beautiful life. And he made great art. Day after day, year after year. That was who he was. He was an epic firework display. I will tell stories about being there for some of the brilliant sparks till the end of my days. What an incredible mark he’s left for us.”
Ryan Coogler is grieving Chadwick Boseman and T’Challa
Coogler concluded his statement with thoughts about Black Panther 2. He had been in prep for a year assuming Boseman would reprise the role of T’Challa.
“I haven’t grieved a loss this acute before,” Coogler said. “I spent the last year preparing, imagining and writing words for him to say, that we weren’t destined to see. It leaves me broken knowing that I won’t be able to watch another close-up of him in the monitor again or walk up to him and ask for another take.”
The next year will surely see Coogler have to reconcieve Black Panther 2 while still mourning his friend.
“It hurts more to know that we can’t have another conversation, or facetime, or text message exchange,” Coogler said. “He would send vegetarian recipes and eating regimens for my family and me to follow during the pandemic. He would check in on me and my loved ones, even as he dealt with the scourge of cancer.”
‘Black Panther’ may help Ryan Coogler and others grieve Chadwick Boseman
Coogler concluded by relating to African funeral traditions.
“In African cultures we often refer to loved ones that have passed on as ancestors,” Coogler wrote. “Sometimes you are genetically related. Sometimes you are not. I had the privilege of directing scenes of Chad’s character, T’Challa, communicating with the ancestors of Wakanda. We were in Atlanta, in an abandoned warehouse, with bluescreens, and massive movie lights, but Chad’s performance made it feel real. I think it was because from the time that I met him, the ancestors spoke through him.”
Coogler also alluded to Boseman’s portrayals of historical figures Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall.
“It’s no secret to me now how he was able to skillfully portray some of our most notable ones,” Coogler wrote. “I had no doubt that he would live on and continue to bless us with more. But it is with a heavy heart and a sense of deep gratitude to have ever been in his presence, that I have to reckon with the fact that Chad is an ancestor now. And I know that he will watch over us, until we meet again.”