On Friday, Aug. 28, Marvel chief creative officer Kevin Feige received an urgent email regarding Chadwick Boseman, with no further information.
Unknown to anyone at the studio, the Black Panther star had been battling colon cancer privately for four-plus years and had taken a sudden turn for the worse.
By the time Feige read the message an hour later, Boseman already had died, sending shock waves through Disney and the tight-knit Marvel Cinematic Universe as reported by The Hollywood Reporters.
The Hollywood Reporter says that the 43-year-old actor, who had become noticeably thin in recent months, was convinced until about a week before his death that he was going to beat cancer and would be able to gain the weight back for a Black Panther sequel that was scheduled to go into production in March. The actor was even set to prepare for the new film beginning in September.
Now, the studio is processing the grief of losing a loved one, an actor beloved and respected on- and offscreen — while having to face the economic realities of forging ahead with a billion-dollar franchise without its titular star.
Furthermore, his death will ripple across the Marvel film universe, given that the Black Panther character was poised to appear in other interconnected films, as Boseman already had done in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, and last year’s all-time top box office grosser, Avengers: Endgame.
The company is processing its grief and that its focus at this stage is to pay tribute to Boseman and not on the making of a Black Panther sequel.
Many are left wondering how Boseman kept his diagnosis under wraps while shooting a film with a colossal budget like the $200 million Black Panther in 2017 (the film opened the following year and went on to earn $1.35 billion worldwide and was nominated for the best picture Oscar).
However, film finance attorney Schuyler Moore says a Marvel star wouldn’t likely require a medical examination for insurance purposes. In his words:
Big studios don’t often [get] completion bonds. They are more prevalent in the indie filmmaking world. Sometimes, the big studios will look to insure for a particular actor, but they usually have a particular reason for doing so. Otherwise, studios will just shoulder the risk [of sickness or death].
In recent years, studios have contended with the sudden deaths of franchise stars including Disney in 2016 with Star Wars’ Carrie Fisher at age 60, Universal in 2013 with Fast & Furious’ Paul Walker at 40, and Warner Bros.
In 2008 with The Dark Knight’s Heath Ledger at 28. In each case, the studios found ways to move ahead with all-important franchises while also honoring beloved or fan-favorite actors.
Still, the challenges Disney faces are, in some ways, unprecedented given that Boseman is Black Panther’s eponymous star.
Most observers agree that Disney has several options. One is to replace Boseman, which could generate a fan outcry and prompt inevitable comparisons between actors.
Even with a scheduled release date of 2022, already iffy due to the coronavirus pandemic, few actors may be willing to take on that challenge.
The second option, which might be preferrable, is to make T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) the new Black Panther. That scenario also aligns with events portrayed in one of the comic book series on which the film is based.
Whatever direction Disney takes, the loss of Boseman to the franchise is immeasurable.