When Chadwick Boseman lost his battle with colon cancer on Aug. 28, the news of both his death and his illness shocked the world. Only a handful of friends and family knew about the Black Panther actor’s diagnosis, and up until a week before his death, Boseman was convinced he’d beat cancer and return to star as the titular superhero in future films, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Now, his tragic and untimely passing has thrown the direction of the franchise into question, forcing Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe to grapple with the future of Black Panther without Boseman while also processing the loss of an icon.
Almost none of Boseman’s colleagues knew about his four-year battle with colon cancer, and nobody involved with Black Panther had any clue, a source told THR. Boseman kept his cancer battle private, and it’s not hard to understand why. The actor filmed Black Panther after his 2016 diagnosis; his performance marked a hugely significant cultural moment, and the news he was fighting a serious illness would’ve likely been more of a professional burden than boon.
The decision to keep his cancer battle secret likely enabled Boseman to star in more films before he passed. Spike Lee, who directed Boseman in Da 5 Bloods and didn’t know about his illness, called him a “trooper,” adding: “He was there every single minute, in the moment, and his performance is testament to what he put into that role and all his roles.”
Similarly, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler was shocked by the news of his star’s death. In his remembrance of Boseman, he wrote about penning the Black Panther sequel with the actor in mind: “I spent the last year preparing, imagining, and writing words for him to say, that we weren’t destined to see. It leaves me broken knowing that I won’t be able to watch another close-up of him in the monitor again or walk up to him and ask for another take.”
Industry insiders told THR that Disney has a few viable options for the future of Black Panther: one is to recast the titular role, which carries the risk of alienating fans and adds the daunting challenge of finding an actor willing to step into Boseman’s shoes. Another option is to coronate T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), as the new Black Panther, a storyline that was explored in the comic book series.