It’s an emotional and bittersweet day for fans of the late Chadwick Boseman as Disney+ streams the second episode of the animated series What if…? which features Boseman's last performance as T'Challa (Black Panther) in the Marvel Comic Universe.
The show is a reimagination of the MCU, taking well-known characters and reimagining their backstories and ultimately, their future trajectories. Episode 2, titled “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” explores what would have happened if T’Challa had been taken to space as a kid and became Star-Lord (as opposed to Peter Quill of the Guardians of the Galaxy series).
In the episode, T’Challa makes his first appearance of the four episodes that Boseman contributed his voice to, as the show explores what impact this difference would have had on the Marvel universe.
Boseman died of colon cancer last August, leaving behind a legacy that continues to impact his fans years after the movie was made. For Black audiences, his T'Challa represented not just a Black superhero that they could see themselves in, but one that carried himself with a kindness, grace and a relatability that far transcended his on-screen persona.
Boseman was excited to try out this particular version of T’Challa because it was so different, What If…? director Bryan Andrews said during a recent interview for the series. “Because it was a version of him playing the king, but the king without the mantle, the royalty and everything else that goes along with it. He could lighten it up and get more jokey with it. He was excited to bring back that flavour to T’Challa,” he said.
Boseman’s fans have since taken to social media to share just how emotional the episode was for them, and how much it means to hear Boseman’s voice in the series.
Boseman’s co-stars and Marvel studio executives were also deeply moved by the episode. Chris Sullivan (This Is Us, Guardians of the Galaxy), who plays Taserface both in the Guardians films and on the show, says it was an emotional moment hearing Boseman's voice in the series. “First of all, the ability to be in any way related to T’Challa and Chadwick Boseman is an incredible honour,” Sullivan told USA TODAY. “There was a lot of feelings that came up hearing him and seeing him even in animated form.”
The show’s executive producer Brad Winderbaum also told USA TODAY he was touched by Boseman’s continued commitment to his legendary character, considering the battles he was facing with his health while working on his final projects.
“It was such a devastating blow to find out about his passing and it was frankly so humbling to know that he spent any time working with us during that period.”
Days before the episode’s release, Jeffrey Wright, who voices The Watcher in the series, also reflected on Boseman’s impact on the show. “He was this quiet hero in his life in a way that we didn't fully appreciate until the end,” he said in an interview with ABC7. “How graceful of him and how dignified to be taking on all of the enormity of the responsibility that he did with his work and quietly go about the battle of his lifetime.”
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige also mentioned that Boseman had loved What If…?’s version of T’Challa so much that there had been discussions with Black Panther director Ryan Coogler about how to potentially work the character into Black Panther 2.
Unfortunately, we won't get to see that happen, but Boseman’s influence on the upcoming sequel and in Black storytelling overall, remain undeniable. “This one hurts and stings, but it’s also incredibly motivating,” Coogler said during a conversation on the Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast. “You spend your life hearing about people like him. For this individual, who is an ancestor now, I was there for it. It’s such an incredible privilege that fills you up as much as it knocks you out.”
Boseman will appear in three more episodes throughout the rest of the season of What If…?, which airs on Disney +.