The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been making household names out of characters that may not have been immediately identifiable for general moviegoers just eight years ago. What was initially considered a superhero movie era belonging to the B-list with Iron Man in 2008 has rapidly evolved into the era of an all-new A-list, though Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige will tell you The Avengers and their pals were never second tier superheroes. That sentiment can be seen and felt in how carefully and effectively Marvel Studios has developed its characters in front of worldwide audiences, a tradition the studio continues with its universe’s newest hero, Black Panther, in Captain America: Civil War.
The world is about to meet and love Black Panther and the process has already begun in many international markets. Within days, the character will rank right up there with all-time MCU favorites. Moviegoers will finally get their chance to catch up with a character that has been historically significant since he debuted in the pages of Fantastic Four #52 in 1966. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther is credited as being the first black superhero in mainstream American comics, predating characters like Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and War Machine (Don Cheadle), both of which already exist in the movies, by several years in the comics.
With diversity rightfully remaining an ongoing part of political and pop culture discourse, the significance of being the first to break any barrier cannot be understated. More than being the first, however, Black Panther has been positioned as one of Marvel’s best and most important heroes from early on. After his two-issue debut arc in FF, Black Panther soon joined Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in The Avengers #52. Right away, Black Panther was written to be an equal of Avengers leader Captain America.
You can see the evenly-matched heroes square off in Captain America: Civil War in which Black Panther makes his first live-action appearance. At the film’s press junket last month, Feige talked about why Civil War was the right point in the MCU’s larger, overarching story to introduce the character to audiences:
It was relatively early on in the development process of the movie that Joe and Anthony [Russo] and our screenwriters Chris [Markus] and Steve [McFeely] thought it would be very valuable to have somebody, sort of in the way that Anthony was talking about Spidey and Ant-Man, people that weren’t quite as invested. We wanted somebody who perhaps was invested, but didn’t have allegiances to any one side, who was essentially in it for very personal reasons himself.
A little background on the character sheds light on why exactly Black Panther is not invested in the battle between heroes in quite the same way that the divided Avengers are. Out of costume, Black Panther is T’Challa, the prince and eventual king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. The country was referred to, but not shown in last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. It is known for being the world’s chief source of virbranium the rare metal out of which Captain America’s shield is made. The most technologically advanced society in the world, Wakanda is famous for its isolationist approach, often avoiding the affairs of the rest of the world. That certainly explains why T’Challa has not interacted with The Avengers on any occasion prior to this film.
The early events of Captain America: Civil War bring T’Challa into The Avengers’ world and like Feige said, he has no real allegiance to either side. His stake in the fight is personal and unique to him. It just so happens that what he wants puts him in alignment with Team Iron Man, which is why you can see him teaming with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and company in the trailers and TV spots. Finding a place for Black Panther in the MCU and specifically this film was only one part of the equation, though, with the search for the right actor being essential, if ultimately brief.
October 28, 2014: Inside the Disney-owned El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA, a huddled mass of Marvel fans and press listened as Kevin Feige mapped out all of Phase 3 for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Included in the list was Black Panther. Finally, it was happening, but that was not all. Feige had pranked the crowd by announcing the third Cap film as Captain America: Serpent Society before ultimately bringing Robert Downey, Jr. and Cap himself, Chris Evans, out on stage to face off and announce the film’s real title: Captain America: Civil War. And still, there was more, as Downey announced the film would feature Black Panther and the character would be played by Chadwick Boseman.
As I watched Boseman walk out on that stage and join Downey and Evans, containing my excitement was far too difficult to even bother with an attempt. Boseman had been my top pick for the role since I saw him play baseball legend and hero Jackie Robinson in 42 the year prior. Boseman’s presence and natural charisma commanded the screen in that film and felt perfect for T’Challa. Just a few months before the announcement, Boseman had been showing off his range in a biopic for another legend who could not have been more different from Robinson, music icon James Brown in Get on Up. Marvel felt the same way, only stronger with Feige speaking about casting Boseman:
We knew we wanted to make a Black Panther movie at some point, but at that time we weren’t sure exactly when that would be, but as these discussions were going on and we thought, ‘I think we’re gonna bring Black Panther into this movie,’ I’m not kidding when I say Chadwick was the only choice. His performance in 42, his performance in Get on Up, how different those performances are.
Once Marvel decided on Boseman as the studio’s ideal Black Panther, it did not take a lot of convincing to get the actor to sign on, not just for Captain America: Civil War, but also the character’s own feature film. Feige described the phone call in which he delivered the good news:
My memory is we called him on the conference room speaker when we were developing the movie and got him while he was somewhere in Switzerland or something at a premiere for Get on Up and he was in his car and either about to get out or he had just gotten back in and we said, ‘have you ever heard of Black Panther?’ And he went, ‘Yes. YES! Why are you asking me that?!’ And he said that he wanted to play the part and he was very excited and it happened very, very quickly.
Boseman actually described his desire to play Black Panther and the other end of that phone call during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! last week:
Boseman is becoming very famous very fast for playing characters who have been the first in their field. As Jackie Robinson, Boseman played the man who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Boseman played James Brown, a musician who was the first to do many things, which included being among the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As Black Panther, Boseman is playing the first black superhero in mainstream American comics. In director Reginald Hudlin’s Marshall (currently in production), Boseman will play Thurgood Marshall, the first African American justice of the United States Supreme Court. It’s clear that Boseman is an actor who is more than willing to take on roles that bear an enormous responsibility. He is brave enough to seek them out and talented enough to do them justice.
Chadwick Boseman and his heroic Marvel character, Black Panther, share the same status as stars on the rise. Black Panther’s pop culture prominence is about to skyrocket thanks to the phenomenal performance Boseman delivers in Captain America: Civil War. His T’Challa has an undeniable presence that commands the immediate respect of those he shares the screen with and those who watch from the audience. He is regal and fierce with the wisdom to know how best to employ both qualities. As fantastic as he is in the film, this is only the beginning for Boseman before he and director Ryan Coogler (Creed) hand in one of the most anticipated films in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther, in February 2018.
For now, T’Challa can claim a victory as the breakout star of Captain America: Civil War and Marvel Studios can rest assured that Chadwick Boseman, the studio’s only choice for Black Panther, has proven himself to be the right one.
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War is in theaters this Friday, May 6.