When Chadwick Boseman passed away from colon cancer in 2020, Marvel fans were devastated. The actor, who played Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, left a huge hole not only in the franchise but in the hearts of millions of admirers. Remembering him as an inspiration on– and off–screen, Marvel President Kevin Feige announced soon after that Boseman’s role as T’Challa would not be recast in honor of his irreplaceable portrayal of the character. However, fans of the franchise have begun to clamor for the actor to be recast in its upcoming sequels. In fact, a petition to do so has garnered nearly 60,000 signatures, and the growing movement has even gained the support of Boseman’s brother.
Though Marvel has a history of recasting actors, such as Terrence Howard and Edward Norton, the question of whether or not to recast an actor after their death has always been a complicated one. Some franchises, such as Star Wars and Fast & Furious, have chosen to bring these actors back to life via CGI; others, such as the planned Galaxy Quest sequel or The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, were either canceled or faced major alterations. A number of series do recast; however, many of these instances are special. They're impossible decisions in which writing off the character simply isn’t possible for the story to continue.
For example, Richard Harris, who portrayed Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, passed away in 2002 with six films remaining in the series. While Harry Potter director Chris Colombus commented that he “couldn’t imagine anyone else'' in the role, Harris was recast with Michael Gambon shortly after. Though Colombus struggled with this decision, wanting to honor Harris’s iconic performance in the first two films, Dumbledore was deemed too important of a character to scrap: his influence on the series couldn’t be manipulated. Harris was the epitome of what the books portrayed, yet there was no character who could replace him in the preordained story.
Black Panther is likewwise an iconic character in the Marvel franchise. As the first superhero of African descent in mainstream American and Marvel comics, he's been an inspiration for individuals worldwide, and Boseman played T’Challa with a grace that won’t soon be forgotten. He handcrafted a legacy unmatched by most, and though some loose ends have been tied up, his character arc feels incomplete. There are too many untold stories, and no matter how the MCU handles Boseman’s death, his absence will surely be felt years from now.
That said, Boseman's Black Panther and the future of the Black Panther franchise are two things that can coexist without recasting what may have been one of, if not the best, portrayals of a character in the MCU to date. Like other heroes in the MCU canon, Black Panther is a mantle—the title is passed down through generations, and there have been others to hold it in the comics. There can't be another Chadwick Boseman, but there can be another Black Panther. Passing the mantle to Letitia Wright’s Shuri, Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, or Winston Duke’s M’Baku in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever would not only cement Boseman's legacy, but would allow the franchise to continue. For now, T’Challa can be laid to rest; Boseman ensured through his honest, impassioned portrayal of the character that Black Panther will never die.
However, that isn’t to say the character of T’Challa shouldn’t be rebooted in the future. Immediately recasting Boseman’s version of the character may feel cheap, but that doesn’t mean other iterations can’t exist. Just like Spider–Man, Superman, and Batman, T’Challa is far too significant to be confined to one generation, and it would be a disservice to Boseman to let him go forever. While his story may be coming to an end in the current MCU timeline, the character’s influence is too broad to simply forget about. The MCU's Multiverse might even allow this to occur, permitting a new actor to step into the role without recasting Boseman’s version of the character. Right now it feels inconceivable to see anyone other than Boseman as T’Challa, but it’s likewise inconceivable that T’Challa will never be portrayed on the silver screen again.
It isn’t difficult to see why his indefinitely confirmed absence in Marvel’s 616 Universe timeline feels wrong, even if the Black Panther mantle was designed to be passed down. With the Multiverse, the MCU has created a built–in plot device that could allow T’Challa to reappear while preserving Boseman’s version of the character. In Spider–Man: No Way Home, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland—three actors who played the web–slinger in different decades—are united on–screen via the same concept. Though Boseman's death is too raw right now, it would be nice to see T'Challa again in the distant future, especially considering his significance as one of the most influential Black characters in Marvel comics. T'Challa is simply a character that can't be retired for good.
An actor’s legacy is most often the characters they bring to life. Boseman undoubtedly championed T'Challa throughout the four years he portrayed him, managing to construct a legacy that the character deserves to see through. During his tenure as Black Panther, Boseman created a role model for millions of Black men and boys who saw themselves depicted on–screen, and it's difficult to come to terms with the fact that a 60–year–old character developed during the Civil Rights Movement might simply be killed off, never to be revived.
However, what really matters is the request of Boseman’s family. His brother Derrick Boseman notably supported the petition to recast the character, citing his brother’s belief that the character was bigger than himself. First and foremost, the family should approve of the route that Marvel takes. Regardless of how T'Challa's exit is addressed in Wakanda Forever, it'll be a goodbye worthy of a king. But legends never really die, and the spirit of Boseman's T'Challa will surely live on.