The recently released Black Panther: Wakanda Forever featured the return of a familiar face, one that surprised audiences and one that co-writer Joe Robert Cole knew he had to have back.
For the uninitiated, the sequel to the critically acclaimed Black Panther sees Shuri (Letitia Wright) return to the Ancestral Plane after consuming her newly created heart-shaped herb. Instead of a specific family, however, she sees none other than Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger. According to Cole in an interview with Rolling stoneshe always knew he wanted the actor back, but figuring out how to achieve it was difficult.
“We’ve always wanted Michael back, and I feel like it was always going to be in the ancestral plane where Shuri had taken the potion,” Cole said. “The question was always, how do you achieve what I think you’re talking about? How do you make it more than just more than just, everybody’s excited because Michael is great and the character is great? How is that relevant to Shuri’s journey and become a focal point for her character?”
Cole went on to say that the key to finding that point was remembering that Killmonger’s motivations in the first film were largely revenge-based, and that mirrored some of what Shuri went through in the sequel.
“So if you think about it, [in the first movie] his journey was also about revenge, and anger and frustration,” Cole said. “That’s part of what we tried to put in with her early on, the anger of losing somebody, the sense of loss. And then how losing her mother would escalate her feelings of wanting revenge. We just tried to build further on that, so he presents her with a choice of: Does she want to move in the direction Killmonger wanted to move? Or does she want to do something different? The idea was to successfully build the stakes for her so that it would resonate. So it would feel deserved that she would feel that way [yearning for] revenge.”
Finally, Cole also talked about how Killmonger’s thoughts on Wakanda – including his anger that they hadn’t helped other countries and remained isolated – played a big role in the sequel, especially with Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda as the antithesis of Killmonger in many ways.
“But one thing I also really loved about the Killmonger scene that we found was his point of view about how he changed Wakanda,” Cole said. “Slayer came in and spoke to the question: Am I my brother’s keeper? And how Wakanda hadn’t seen the world. Here you have Queen Ramonda, who is the diametric opposite—she was much more isolationist than T’Challa was—rescuing RiRi, this African-American teenager. There is an argument that it might not have happened before Killmonger. So was able to make that scene not only relevant to Shuri’s character, but also relevant to the nation of Wakanda.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever can now be seen in cinemas.