Hello kitty! Em­pire breaks Whiskas with the MCU’S new­est heroic re­cruit: Cat-man! Sorry, Black Pan­ther.

Chad­wick Bose­man is best known for los­ing him­self in as­ton­ish­ingly con­vinc­ing por­tray­als of real-life his­tor­i­cal fig­ures. He broke through as Jackie Robinson in 2013 base­ball drama 42 and went on to em­body God­fa­ther Of Soul James Brown in Get On Up a year later. Both roles were, it turns out, good prepa­ra­tion for Civil War, which sees Bose­man take on another ground­break­ing his­tor­i­cal fig­ure: the first black su­per­hero lead in comic books, Black Pan­ther.

Cre­ated by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, Black Pan­ther first ap­peared in the pages of Fan­tas­tic Four in July 1966 (pre­dat­ing Huey P. New­ton’s black na­tion­al­ist move­ment of the same name by three months), be­fore join­ing The Avengers in 1968. Decked in sleek, hightech com­bat ar­mour and pos­sess­ing cat­like agility and senses, he faced off against the shady likes of Erik Kill­mon­ger, Man-ape and the Age Of Ul­tron­cameo­ing Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis).

So, in con­trast to James Brown and Jackie Robinson, this char­ac­ter does spend rather more of his time leap­ing around and be­tween build­ings. As is clear when Em­pire meets Bose­man in his Civil War trailer, where we find him still re­cov­er­ing from the previous day’s rooftop ac­tion scene, which he had to shoot in 100-de­gree heat while wear­ing his full Black Pan­ther suit.

De­spite such swel­ter­ing ac­tion se­quences, Bose­man in­sists that Black Pan­ther is “not a su­per­hero” in the usual sense. Amid the grand-scale tus­sle that is the Civil War, he stands apart. “I’m not on any­body’s team,” says Bose­man. “It’s my po­lit­i­cal mis­sion to tame it and get it un­der con­trol.”

Di­rec­tor Joe Russo ad­mits that in­tro­duc­ing “a char­ac­ter we love and who peo­ple have high ex­pec­ta­tions for” proved a chal­lenge, es­pe­cially “in a movie that has so much go­ing on. But it ac­tu­ally works out re­ally well. We found a very in­ter­est­ing place in the nar­ra­tive for him, where he’s his own third-party rad­i­cal.”

So this lat­est in­tro­duc­tion to the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse, real-name T’challa, is to Bose­man, at least, more grounded than your av­er­age cos­tumed crime-fighter — he’s a po­lit­i­cal fig­ure. And royalty, to boot. “T’challa is a prince of Wakanda,” he ex­plains. “All he­roes have a weight on their shoul­ders, but there will even­tu­ally be a dif­fer­ence in what I have to carry po­lit­i­cally and so­cially.”

Joe and An­thony Russo be­lieve this is an ap­pro­pri­ate Marvel in­stal­ment in which to in­tro­duce Black Pan­ther, as they see some sim­i­lar­ity to the big guy in red, white and blue. “Be­cause he’s an em­blem and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of his coun­try in the way that Cap­tain America is,” says An­thony Russo. “But in a dif­fer­ent way too: Cap is an every­man who be­came el­e­vated be­cause of his virtues and Pan­ther is a prince. So it’s an in­ter­est­ing con­trast.”

In an em­phatic counter to too many African stereo­types, Wakanda is one of the world’s most ad­vanced na­tions, home to most of the world’s stock of the ‘vi­bra­nium’ which makes up Cap’s shield. “The idea of Wakanda is sort of, what if Tim­buktu hadn’t been con­quered?” says Bose­man, who also in­vented his own ac­cent for the char­ac­ter, fig­ur­ing out where on the con­ti­nent the fic­tional coun­try would lie. “I ba­si­cally lis­tened to peo­ple and picked what sounded cool, since it’s not a spe­cific place. It’s in the south­ern, cen­tral part of Africa. The at­ti­tude, the mu­si­cal­ity, is my pref­er­ence for the char­ac­ter. It has to fit his dig­nity.”

Of course, this is Marvel, and there are many ‘su­per’ el­e­ments to this hero. In the comics, Black Pan­ther com­bines mys­ti­cal pow­ers with high-tech ac­ces­sories. The lat­ter are def­i­nitely pre­sented in Civil War: vi­bra­nium is wo­ven into his suit to pro­vide ex­tra pro­tec­tion, and has been shaped into ‘claws’ so sharp they can cut through other met­als. There are also, Bose­man teases, fur­ther “prop­er­ties to the suit that you’ll see at a later date”. He won’t con­firm whether his char­ac­ter has al­ready un­der­gone the ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­mony that im­bues him with su­per­hu­man senses, strength and speed, but it’s a fair bet he’ll have swal­lowed his magic brew by the end of the Black Pan­ther solo movie, to be di­rected by Creed’s Ryan Coogler (“He’s dy­namic, he loves the char­ac­ter, he’s such a great choice to di­rect that movie,” says Joe Russo).

Each Marvel solo adventure so far has had its own dis­tinct tone, and the same will be true of Black Pan­ther. “There is one genre I think Black Pan­ther lends him­self to, but I’m not go­ing to say,” Bose­man tells us. “Black Pan­ther is a su­per­hero movie but it’s still char­ac­ter­driven. That’s my as­sess­ment so far. You iden­tify with what you know, you have the fan­tasy of this other world but that can only hold you so far. It’s what’s real that is go­ing to hold you in the end.”


Chad­wick Bose­man

as Black Pan­ther.

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