Marvel Studio’s Black Panther is more than just a superhero flick. It represents a cultural moment, spearheaded by the performance of the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa. Studio head Kevin Feige and Disney announced in December the story of T’Challa will end with the man, saying he won’t be recast in future films. Now thousands of fans are hoping Feige and other executives reverse their decision. 

Film critic Emmanuel Noisette of ‘E-Man’s Reviews’ has launched a petition to recast T’Challa in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since starting the movement in late March it’s racked up more than 25,000 signatures and counting, surpassing its initial goal. 

Noisette believes the role of T’Challa is too important to remove, especially after only one solo film. 

“It would be at the expense of the audience, especially Black boys and Black men who saw themselves in him,” Noisette said. “The character of T’Challa is so vitally important for what he represents. He was literally the very first mainstream Black superhero. He’s Black history. The Jackie Robinson of Black superheroes.”

Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966, T’Challa was introduced to comic readers in a racially turbulent time as a direct challenge to negative stereotypes of Black people. In his first appearance, he squares off with the Fantastic Four, an all-white team. Dr. Stanford W. Carpenter, a comic scholar and artist, points to this as a pivotal moment for media representation. 

“Our family of heroes goes out in search of a hidden civilization and stumble upon a people who they initially think are savages that turn out to be technologically advanced,” said Carpenter. “They go up against their leader. The twist? They are African! They are Black! And their leader, the Black Panther, is better than the Fantastic Four, both in combat and intellect.”

“In so doing, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby challenged people of the sixties to imagine who could be a superhero.”

Noisette believes the character sparked a wave of other Black superheroes on comic pages, television and film screens.

“He wasn’t a sidekick. He wasn’t a side character. He was the star. Without T’Challa you wouldn’t have Blade, you wouldn’t have Storm,” said Noisette. “You wouldn’t have these characters that are in the forefront without T’Challa being there first.”

Noisette, like many fans, was taken aback when the usually elusive Feige flatly stated there would be no recasting of Chadwick Boseman’s iconic role. 

“They said we aren’t recasting period,” said Noisette. “Marvel had the best intentions here. But long term, there are deeper ramifications that I don’t think people are aware of. What do you do with the little Black boys who looked at T’Challa and saw themselves in him?”

There still aren’t a lot of details out there for the planned Black Panther sequel set to release July 8, 2022. But director Ryan Coogler has confirmed he had to rewrite the sequel without T’Challa, which he called “the most difficult professional task” he’s ever had. Some have speculated that the character will be killed on or off screen, which Noisette finds problematic. 

“’Black Panther 2’ comes around and let’s say we’ve all had enough time to heal from Chadwick Boseman’s passing. You’re going to kill him again? You’re going to re-open that wound? I think that’s a little misguided.”

Some fans have also speculated that Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, could take up the Black Panther mantle in future films. It’s an idea that Noisette is open to, but not if it means losing T’Challa in the film’s universe. 

“As much as I want to someone like Shuri or whoever else elevated, I don’t want that to happen at the cost of losing the first and only leading Black superhero in the MCU. Everyone can elevate together.” 

Noisette says the movement is not meant to disrespect Boseman at all. Rather, the point is to recognize the role is bigger than one person. 

“It’s like if a loved one passed. What’s the best way we can celebrate this person? #RecastTChalla is a call to fulfill the role that Chadwick worked so hard for the world to see. We only scratched the surface with his story.”

Filming on ‘Black Panther 2’ hasn’t begun yet, so Noisette feels there is still time for producers, writers and directors to take a fan movement like this into consideration. 

“T’Challa is the epitome of representation. He is what we are striving for. He absolutely should continue. The number one way to kill a legend is to stop telling their story.” 

Brandon Pope is a reporter and anchor with CW26 Chicago, Chair, NABJ Broadcast Taskforce and Board member, Obama Foundation My Brother’s Keeper.