A table is quickly wheeled in as Coogler pulls the curtains back along a row of windows to let in more light. “I felt claustrophobic; it didn’t feel like we were equals,” he explains. “I just want to have a normal conversation with people.”
That’s been hard to come by of late.
“Wakanda Forever” represents the collective efforts of a tightly knit family of filmmakers working under unimaginably difficult circumstances. On Aug. 28, 2020, the franchise’s lead actor, Chadwick Boseman, died of colon cancer at 43, when Coogler was still developing the screenplay for the sequel; it was an overwhelming loss that also forced a major overhaul of the story. After cameras finally started rolling 10 months later, the production was derailed again when its new star, 29-year-old Letitia Wright, suffered devastating injuries on set, putting the shoot on hold for several months, followed by headlines alleging that she was unvaccinated for COVID-19.
None of this was how making the sequel to one of the most meaningful cultural sensations of the new century was supposed to go.
When “Black Panther” opened in 2018 to record-breaking box office grosses, ultimately banking $1.3 billion worldwide, it eviscerated the pernicious lie that movies with predominantly Black casts cannot perform on a global scale, and it did so by bringing to life an exhilarating vision of the African nation of Wakanda as the most technologically advanced society in the world. Then “Black Panther” made history again, earning seven Oscar nominations — including for best picture, a first for a superhero movie — and winning three, with costume designer Ruth E. Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler as the first-ever Black winners in their respective categories.
Halfway through an answer about his mindset as he considered following the first film with a sequel, Coogler hunches over, then rises from his chair.
“I’m going to stand up a little bit, if that’s OK,” he says.
Coogler paces, warding off the nagging discomfort of a bad back and other, less tangible worries. He talks about how even in the immediate wake of the unparalleled success of “Black Panther,” he grappled with the massive responsibility of doing another film, and how there was an almost existential uncertainty to committing that much of his life so fully to just one thing.