Ryan Coogler, director and cowriter of Marvel's Black Panther, released an emotional tribute on Sunday to the film's star Chadwick Boseman, who died of colon cancer on Friday.
He then explained that his first interaction with Boseman came when he watched then-unreleased footage of Boseman in Captain America: Civil War, while trying to decide whether he wanted to direct Black Panther.
"It was at that moment I knew I wanted to make this movie," Coogler wrote. "After Scarlett [Johansson's] character leaves them, Chad and John [Kani] began conversing in a language I had never heard before. It sounded familiar, full of the same clicks and smacks that young black children would make in the States. The same clicks that we would often be chided for being disrespectful or improper. But, it had a musicality to it that felt ancient, powerful, and African."
Coogler wrote he was amazed to learn that the language the two had been speaking was Xhosa, Kani's native language, and that Boseman had learned the language that day. The actor later advocated for his character T’Challa to speak with an African accent. Xhosa became the language of Wakanda in the film, Coogler wrote.
When he met Boseman in person in 2016 after signing onto the film, Coogler said he immediately connected with the actor over their lives and shared vision for the movie.
Coogler said Boseman was a "special person" who always believed in the project:
We would often speak about heritage and what it means to be African. When preparing for the film, he would ponder every decision, every choice, not just for how it would reflect on himself, but how those choices could reverberate. “They not ready for this, what we are doing…” “This is Star Wars, this is Lord of the Rings, but for us… and bigger!” He would say this to me while we were struggling to finish a dramatic scene, stretching into double overtime. Or while he was covered in body paint, doing his own stunts. Or crashing into frigid water, and foam landing pads. I would nod and smile, but I didn’t believe him. I had no idea if the film would work. I wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing. But I look back and realize that Chad knew something we all didn’t. He was playing the long game. All while putting in the work. And work he did.
Coogler said he is devastated that Boseman will not be able to work on the next Black Panther film, saying he "spent the last year preparing, imagining and writing words for him to say, that we weren’t destined to see." He said he was unaware Boseman had cancer before his death.
"Chad deeply valued his privacy, and I wasn’t privy to the details of his illness," he wrote. "After his family released their statement, I realized that he was living with his illness the entire time I knew him. Because he was a caretaker, a leader, and a man of faith, dignity and pride, he shielded his collaborators from his suffering. He lived a beautiful life. And he made great art. Day after day, year after year. That was who he was."
In African cultures we often refer to loved ones that have passed on as ancestors. Sometimes you are genetically related. Sometimes you are not. I had the privilege of directing scenes of Chad’s character, T’Challa, communicating with the ancestors of Wakanda. We were in Atlanta, in an abandoned warehouse, with bluescreens, and massive movie lights, but Chad’s performance made it feel real. I think it was because from the time that I met him, the ancestors spoke through him. It’s no secret to me now how he was able to skillfully portray some of our most notable ones. I had no doubt that he would live on and continue to bless us with more. But it is with a heavy heart and a sense of deep gratitude to have ever been in his presence, that I have to reckon with the fact that Chad is an ancestor now. And I know that he will watch over us, until we meet again.
Coogler's statement joined an outpouring of grief and tributes for Boseman after his death, including ones from his Black Panther costars.
Boseman's onscreen mother, Angela Bassett, shared several photos of the duo together on social media, writing, "It was meant to be for Chadwick and me to be connected, for us to be family."
Sterling K. Brown wrote that he didn't "have words," writing "thank you for all you did while you were here."
Danai Gurira wrote Boseman was "zen and sweet and funny" and "made everyone feel loved, heard, and seen."
And Letitia Wright simply wrote, "this hurts. really hurts."
ABC announced on Sunday it will air Black Panther at 8 p.m. without ads. Following the film, the channel will air a special, titled Chadwick Boseman – A Tribute for a King, to honor the actor's life, work, and legacy.