A fine new Lupita Nyong’o interview about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever includes one of those awkward moments in a celebrity interview when the subject is asked something they’d really prefer not to answer, and has to decide how to handle it. The moment comes nine paragraphs into the latest Hollywood Reporter cover story, when the reporter dutifully asks the actress a question she knows she won’t answer, and Nyong’o deflects almost poetically.
The interview, we are told, took place at a seaside restaurant in August. “Asked whether she is in fact the new Black Panther, Nyong’o pauses,” reads the THR piece. Nyong’o then answers: “If I told you that, I might as well just … swim into the ocean and never be seen again.”
Look, it’s a reasonable question, albeit one that no actor would ever answer. With the much-anticipated Wakanda Forever just weeks away, the popular money is on Shuri (Letitia Wright) taking over as Black Panther after the death of her brother T’Challa (who was played by the late Chadwick Boseman). Most fans have focused on Shuri because she has taken on the Black Panther role in the Marvel comics that inspired the films.
But the relative absence of Lupita Nyong’o in the trailers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has fueled theories that Marvel may be trying to throw everyone off about who the real next Black Panther will be. After all, the conventional wisdom is that if you have Lupita Nyong’o in your film, you highlight it. Her character, Nakia, is clearly well-suited (no pun intended) to be Black Panther: When we first met her in the original 2018 film, she was deep undercover on a rescue mission. Shuri may be happier in her lab, despite her acumen with wrist gauntlets.
Marvel already made the somewhat surprising decision to reveal in the latest Wakanda Forever trailer that a woman will wear the Black Panther costume in the next film — the only question is who she will be. Interest is intense given the four-year wait since the original Black Panther — which was the top-grossing film of 2018, beating even Avengers: Infinity Wars. And given the deep affection for Boseman among both the filmmakers and fans of the film, the decision about who should take his character’s place needs to resonate emotionally. It would make sense for either Shuri, his sister, or Nakia, the love of his life, to carry on his work.
Main image: Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia in Black Panther.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever arrives in theaters on November 11.