Nearly five years after the monumental success of “Black Panther” (2018), the highly anticipated sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” will be released on November 11th. Director Ryan Coogler persevered through an insurmountable challenge of co-writing and directing the film following the passing of star Chadwick Boseman, who was the living embodiment of his character King T’Challa.
While the void of Boseman’s presence is felt within “Wakanda Forever,” the film thoroughly pays tribute to Boseman while introducing audiences to several new characters including Riri Williams/Ironheart (Dominique Thorne) as well as a new villain, Namor (Tenoch Huerta) who is the ruler of a Mayan-inspired underwater kingdom, Talokan.
Namor and his army of Talokanil warriors including Alex Livinalli as Attuma and Mabel Cadena as Namora are formidable opponents against the Wakandans and their presence leaves an irrevocable mark on their lives.
Before joining the prestigious MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) Livnalli’s extensive resume included, “Ozark,” “American Horror Story,” and “NCIS: New Orleans.” He shared with the L.A. Sentinel what he admired most about Coogler as a director.
“What I really love about Ryan is that he finds a way to speak to you in your own language. When I say ‘language,’ I don’t mean English, Spanish, French or Mayan, he finds common ground and talks to you through that.
“We’re both basketball fans so a lot of our communication on set was through basketball analogies and that was something I really appreciated. He took the time to find this language to communicate with me and not every director does that so I’m grateful.”
Cadena echoed similar sentiments of high praise for Coogler. The Mexican actress, who has over 20 acting credits, shared how “Wakanda Forever” was more than another film role. “Ryan changed my life. He changed the narrative of my own story.”
Cadena spent nine months learning how to speak English in addition to learning how to swim and free dive in preparation for the film. When asked how working with Coogler was different from other directors, she said, “Throughout the movie, he wanted to know what were my experiences as a Mexican woman and if the story made sense for us and our characters as Latino American people as he built the Talokan world. I’m very thankful to Ryan for all those little things.
In discussing the importance of cultural specificity in “Wakanda Forever,” Coogler told the Sentinel, “I admire things more that are specific, intentional, and respectful of cultures. There are few things worse than having your culture disrespected or feeling like your culture was used in a way that wasn’t mindful or intentional.
“As a child, I remember watching ‘Malcolm X’ and feeling like the people responsible really respected the culture that I was a part of. Dito with ‘Boyz n the Hood.’ As I got older as a filmmaker and a film consumer, I admired things that felt culturally specific even to cultures I wasn’t familiar with. I think about films like ‘City of God.’
“Though I had never seen Brazilian cinema before, it felt specific and authentic. I liked feeling as if I had traveled to another country in the timespan of watching the movie, I came out of it with a richer understanding, knowledge, and curiosity. So I definitely want the films that I make to have cultural specificity. We had it in the first ‘Black Panther’ and I think that type of attention to detail is expected of us now from our audiences.”
He continued, “And speaking of the Talokanil which is the Latin American and Mezo American representation or Indigenous representation, we couldn’t do all of the work we did with Wakanda and not do that same type of work with this group of people, it would have been extremely unfair so we wanted to go as deep if not deeper for the Talokanil out of love and respect.”
Amidst the fanfare and promotional tour in support of the film, we asked Coogler if the production process was healing and if he’s able to be happy and present in this moment? He shared, “I’m realizing that ‘healing’ is an interesting word, it doesn’t necessarily fit. Emotional wounds are so much different than physical ones. We try to assign physical properties to emotional wounds and I don’t know if it necessarily fits. I don’t know if emotional wounds ever truly heal.”
He added, “I feel fortunate that my career as a filmmaker bought Chadwick and me into each other’s lives. [Filmmaking] gives me an outlet for how I’m feeling, a way for me to express deep emotional questions and connectedness in a very public way.
“I can communicate with people that I’ll never get a chance to meet through the art that I’m blessed to be able to make. I think it made me very appreciative of the space for relationships and the outlet that being an artist gives me.
“Chadwick was very passionate about the space for artists. He was passionate about that his whole life and he spent the last years of his life making art while fighting a very formidable disease. It was less of a healing [process] and more of something I was grateful for.”