BEVERLY HILLS – Just months ago, the technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda was a well-kept secret.
But the release of Black Panther in February changed that onscreen and off. #WakandaForever became a hashtag call to arms for fans of the culturally transformative film led by black superhero T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) — and the movie earned an eye-popping $1.3 billion (and counting) at the worldwide box office.
T’Challa announced to the United Nations that Wakanda would open its once-concealed doors to the rest of the world in a post-credits Panther scene. Already, Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) has been shown recuperating there in Panther's final scene under the care of teenage tech genius Shuri (Letitia Wright).
“It’s his purpose as a king. This is how he’s going to rule,” says Boseman of the new openness. “T’Challa is basically saying, ‘We have a responsibility to the world to be a beacon of light.' ”
Boseman, Wright and Stan sat down with USA TODAY to discuss how this will play out in Avengers: Infinity War (officially opens Friday, though theaters will show it Thursday night) and future Black Panther movies.
Bucky is better, hopefully for good
The Winter Soldier’s appearance in Wakanda, and in Infinity War scenes preparing for battle alongside T’Challa, are especially surprising considering their bad history. It was only in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War that T’Challa was hunting Bucky down with intent to kill because it appeared the brainwashed soldier had killed T'Challa and Shuri's father.
Turns out Bucky was framed and earned a rare Wakanda asylum to recover from his mental wounds and a blown-up arm. In Panther, Bucky’s a changed man under Shuri's care, with a serene look and a gentle man-bun hairstyle.
Wright describes “a friendship” between Bucky and Shuri, who even restores his arm with an artificial limb made of vibranium, the country’s powerful metal. The two bonded during the shoot, with Wright giving dance instruction.
“I tried to make him Milly Rock with his vibranium arm,” Wright laughs. “It was not quite successful.”
“Let’s say, I have not tested it out on Sunset Boulevard yet,” Stan says.
Stan won’t let on if the Wakanda cure will last for Bucky.
“It’s like, can you cure his brain? Anybody’s brain? You maybe make them handle their past a little bit better. I don’t know,” says Stan. “But I happen to be in the place that has the best of the best.”
The 'Panther' stars were protective of Wakanda
T’Challa had every intention to open the country, but not to an attack from Infinity War’s supervillain Thanos. This brings a supercollection of Avengers to do battle on the secretive grounds.
“We were not inviting trouble, that’s for sure,” Boseman says.
For the actor, it was a welcome relief to reunite with his Civil War stars without the pressure of the intense Black Panther shoot.
“Black Panther was a hectic, rigorous set with literally no breath of fresh air ever,” he says. “So coming to a set where you don’t have to carry that same type of weight, and you can actually just be a part of this bigger thing, that was a relief to me.”
The sight of all the heroes on the Wakanda sets, from Captain America to Iron Man, was strange for the other Black Panther cast members who are new to Avengers movies. Boseman called for a huddle with Wright, Danai Gurira (Okoye) and Winston Duke (M’Baku).
“Watching them come into it, it was like, ‘Whoa. Calm down, it’s going to be cool,' ” Boseman says.
“Excuse me for how I say this, but it’s just kind of what it is,” he explains. “We didn’t have any white people in Wakanda. So all of a sudden, it was like this whole world has changed. It’s like, what’s going on? As characters, I had to be like, ‘It’s OK, it’s fine. We opened our doors. They are visiting.’ As actors, we were visiting. It was that weird juxtaposition. We are new on the (Avengers) set. But at the same time, this is our territory.”
The 'Black Panther' sequel is coming
It’s not official, but Black Panther 2 is a sure thing. It's just a matter of when. Boseman and writer/director Ryan Coogler have batted around ideas.
“I have some things in mind. We’ve talked about it,” says Boseman. “But Ryan needs a rest, to recharge.”
If Bucky is still recovering in Wakanda, Stan is game to continue.
“I would be happily involved in any way, shape or form,” he says. “I just hope I’m still around there after this film.”
Wright has her own ideas which, coincidentally, would favor Shuri.
“I think we should see a huge improvement on the technology side,” she says. “You haven’t seen nothing yet. We should have different types of cars and stuff. Just go in on the vibranium.”