Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o on 'beautiful love letter' of 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'

Anika Reed

Black women are often superheroes in everyday life, shouldering generational and systemic burdens and providing comfort and support for the people in their lives.

In "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," Black women are superheroes on screen, carrying the franchise forward and communicating a language of strength rooted in vulnerability not always afforded to them in film.

The stars of the Ryan Coogler-directed Marvel epic are forging through life-altering changes, powerfully highlighting their characters' tenderness and tenacity. The death of the film's star, Chadwick Boseman, and his titular Wakandan leader King T'Challa, pushed the cast into traversing a new path together. 

"It was really a therapeutic journey to step into this knowing that you're not doing it alone, that what you were feeling wasn't isolated," says Letitia Wright, whose character Shuri fills the exceedingly large shoes left by the loss of her older brother.

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Letitia Wright's Shuri returns in the sequel "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Neither Wright nor Shuri is alone in the healing journey, instead surrounded by fiercely loyal Dora Milaje leader Okoye (Danai Gurira) and T'Challa's love interest, Wakandan spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o). Each of the characters is at different stages as they step into their powers, tapping into the matriarchal love from Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and forming a protective sisterhood with newcomer Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). Taking on core roles required the actresses to rally around each other, simultaneously grieving and creating what Wright calls a "beautiful love letter for our brother."

The actress says the movie's stars and creators were "always there for each other and stayed connected to the script, stayed in constant communication with Ryan about the script, what we were feeling (and) the ways in which our characters grow and develop."

"Shuri is going through so much growth in this film," Wright says. "I feel like I have an even deeper bond with Danai and Lupita and Ryan this time around, so we just supported one another."

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Okoye (Danai Gurira, left) and Shuri (Letitia Wright) go undercover to protect a teenage tech prodigy in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

The second film is "very important," Gurira says, in "that these characters show the full expansiveness of their humanness and that they're expanded and shifted and challenged."

Between 2018's Oscar best picture-nominated first installment and stepping on the set for the sequel, life in both Wakanda and the world around them drastically changed.

"By the time I came to this movie, I had really humbled myself to how fragile life is and our mortality,” Nyong'o says. “I was really feeling it, and I know a lot of people are feeling the same with the pandemic and losing so many people. This is a unique moment when the whole world is contemplating our fragility." 

Lupita Nyong'o returns as Wakandan superspy Nakia in Marvel's "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Coogler, who has said he wasn't sure if he would return to the franchise after Boseman's death, brought his concept of a reenvisioned Wakanda to life through the film's leads.

"It was very clear he wanted us to grapple with our characters dealing with great change and that have gone through complex journeys," Gurira says.

But the cast is quick to shut down spoilers about those complicated odysseys, of which the film has many. Keeping the details under wraps is a priority ahead of a sequel that's "jampacked with a lot of action," Wright says.

Wakanda is facing a new dawn after T'Challa's death, with Ramonda choosing a more isolationist reign than her son, and foreign threats encroaching on the nation. A new enemy emerges in Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), the winged mutant leader of the underwater Talokan kingdom.

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Mayan and Mesoamerican culture and references are included in the look of Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) and the Talokan people in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

"We're dealing with new characters, new threats to Wakanda and we're learning about the indigenous traditions that were lost for so many people, so many generations, and just a rebirth of that," Wright says.

Though the fictional scientifically advanced nation grappled with staying hidden, being alone was not an option for the women at the heart of the movie. Leaning on each other allowed them to elevate the "full human experience" in their performances, including "lightness and levity at times," Gurira says. 

Wright teases a scene with her co-stars that she calls a "pocket of joy" and allows audiences "to see three Black women just bounce off of each other. It's really fun, very light."

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Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) in the original "Black Panther."

Working with Wright gave way to heartwarming moments of remembrance for Nyong'o, who calls Wright a "gracious and generous actress."

"Between takes, I remember asking her, 'What do you think Chadwick would say in this moment?' " Nyong'o says. "And she would say, 'I feel like he would say this,' and I'll be like, 'Nah, I feel like he would say that.' In so doing, we were remembering ways that Chadwick showed up and it was making us crack up. We had such a joyful memory of him."

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