How Black Panther 2 Explains T'Challa's Death, Sorta
I still have questions.
Black Panther’s sequel was famously derailed just before filming was slated to start when the movie’s lead, Chadwick Boseman, passed away from colorectal cancer. The entire script had to be scrapped, and the movie was oberhauled. The resulting film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, is a gorgeous paean to grief, channeling director Ryan Coogler’s feelings over losing his leading man and dear friend. However, the question on everyone’s minds leading up to the film, how Black Panther 2 would explain T’Challa’s death, wasn’t exactly answered.
Spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever follow. The cold open to the new film began with Shuri in her lab, frantically working, throwing everything she had against the wall in a desperate battle to save her brother, who was dying upstairs. She refused to stop, even when people told her it was too late and that she should give up and be with her brother in his final moments. Instead, she missed his passing and, with no outlet for her rage and grief, threw herself into technology even further, refusing her mother’s comforts of Wakandan rituals.
But what exactly happened to T’Challa is unclear. Shuri’s failed Hail Mary was an attempt to print a synthetic heart-shaped herb. That’s the plant that gives the Black Panther his abilities, which Killmonger burned in the first film. Shuri seemed to believe that would help him beat whatever disease he had, and when she later confronted a vision of Killmonger, she blamed him for burning the plants, unwittingly condemning her brother to die from the illness.
But what disease T’Challa had was never spelled out. There are hints around the edges that it was something progressive — at the end of the film, Nakia told Shuri that T’Challa had prepared her for his passing and made plans ahead that she should not attend the funeral. Shuri also said T’Challa “suffered in silence” and only came to her for help when it was too late.
These details echo Boseman’s passing IRL. He had already been diagnosed with cancer when the first Black Panther movie debuted in 2018, something he kept private As the disease progressed, he held that suffering from the eyes of the public and those at Marvel and Disney.
And yet, T’Challa was never said to have passed from anything in particular, and that’s most likely deliberate. The point is not what T’Challa died from; he has left this world for the ancestral plane, and those who remain must learn to grieve and let go. To make his death from a specific disease would distract from that. It would also cause audiences to focus on the details rather than allow their imaginations to fill in their experiences of losing loved ones that the film is meant to evoke.