Black Panther will introduce viewers to a whole new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some key characters were introduced in Captain America: Civil War - most notably the title character himself - while others are about to make their big-screen debut.
The movie takes viewers to the fictional African nation of Wakanda, a tribal civilization ruled over by the new king T'Challa. Many of the key characters are part of Wakanda's royal family, while others are important tribal leaders. Meanwhile, Black Panther is faced with a ruthless conspiracy that involves enemies from both within and outside of Wakandan borders. Many of these characters will be brand-new to fans - including comic book readers. Black Panther features a number of lesser-known secondary characters, and in some cases their stories and background have been changed for the movie. Here's a spoiler-free guide to the characters you'll meet in Black Panther.
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in 1966, Black Panther was originally a supporting character for the Fantastic Four. He was the first black superhero in mainstream American comics, and in 1973 began to star in his own series, Jungle Action. Written by Don McGregor, this series was critically acclaimed, and the combined story is viewed as Marvel's first ever graphic novel.
Black Panther is king and protector of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. As the decades have passed, his character and backstory have gradually been fleshed out, and he's become one of the most important Marvel characters. Marvel Studios hired Chadwick Boseman to play the part in 2014, and he made his MCU debut in 2016's Captain America: Civil War. The MCU's Black Panther was introduced as Wakanda's prince, but Zemo's terrorist attack led to the death of his father. T'Challa initially launched himself on a vendetta against the Winter Soldier, whom Zemo had framed, and inadvertently revealed Black Panther's existence to the world.
The movie picks up straight after the events of Civil War. Wakanda has just lost its King, but the prince decided to head off on a mission of vengeance rather than return home. All this has left Wakanda in a troubled, divided state. Wakanda has always been proud of its isolationist history, but T'Challa and his father have drawn a lot of attention. The new monarch must decide whether to change his nation's path, or instead honor their isolationist traditions.
It's a mostly comic-book-accurate take - albeit with one simple difference. In the comics, T'Challa is actually one of the Marvel Universe's greatest geniuses - a technician and weaponsmith who can stand side-by-side with the likes of Reed Richards. In the MCU, that role has shifted to his sister, Shuri.
Everett K. Ross
Created by Christopher Priest and Kenny Martinez in 1998, Everett Ross is a long-standing ally of Black Panther. The character was actually inspired by Chandler Bing from Friends, and was intended as a sort of "audience surrogate" in Priest's comics. As he explained in an interview with Newsarama:
"I vented my irritation at how Marvel had so marginalized this character (which I interpreted as Marvel editorial approaching the character from a standpoint of race) through the over-the-top stupidity of his new State Department handler: he saw Panther the way Panther had ultimately come to be seen by Marvel: Just Some Guy who was routinely overshadowed by heroes in which they were more invested."
Priest's run transformed Black Panther, winning popular and critical acclaim. Ross's character was a major part of that, with the character gradually coming to appreciate and understand T'Challa.
Martin Freeman played the part in Civil War, and will reprise the role in Black Panther. While Ross will still act as an "audience surrogate," he's been dramatically reinvented. Wakanda will still be a surprise for the veteran CIA agents, but he's well-versed in meeting with monarchs and presidents.
Okoye is another character who was introduced during Christopher Priest's run. She's one of the Dora Milaje, a militant order of all-female bodyguards who serve the King of Wakanda. Each member of the Dora Milaje was chosen from a different tribe, and in the comics each has a shot at becoming the queen. T'Challa was never interested in them in this way, however, seeing them as largely ceremonial.
Marvel Studios has blended Okoye with another member of the Dora Milaje in the comics, Aneka. They've reinvented Okoye as a Wakandan general, leader of the Dora Milaje, and one of T'Challa's most important advisers. This decision has had something of a mixed response. In the comics, Aneka is a prominent lesbian character, and is in a relationship with Ayo (played by Florence Kasumba in the film). Fans were excited at the possibility of the first gay relationship in a Marvel movie, but the studio hasn't chosen to follow up on that idea.
The Queen Mother of Wakanda, Ramonda was created by Don McGregor and Gene Colan in 1989. TChalla originally believed she'd left Wakanda after her husband's death, but she'd actually been abducted by a white supremacist. Needless to say, when Black Panther learned the truth he swiftly freed Ramonda, and she's been a major part of his supporting cast ever since. Ramonda has always been portrayed as a voice of wisdom, and has been one of T'Challa's most capable advisers.
Angela Bassett is playing the character in Black Panther, and Boseman has nothing but praise for the actress. "I think it shows the matriarchal African society," he told Screen Rant, adding that "she’s not a figurehead mother." The theme of family is central to the film, ensuring that Ramonda is a particularly important character.
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