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May 10, 2018

30 Things We Learned from Ryan Coogler’s ‘Black Panther’ Commentary

“Little Lion King shout out with the stripe across his forehead.”

Black Panther is new to home video — Blu-ray, DVD, 4K UltraHD, digital — and the release is loaded with supplemental extras exploring the production from beginning to end. One of the extras is a commentary track featuring director/co-writer Ryan Coogler, so of course, we gave it a listen.

Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…

Black Panther (2018)

Commentators: Ryan Coogler (director/co-writer), Hannah Beachler (production designer)

1. The opening sequence showing the history of Wakanda via CG was in and out of the script several times before they finally decided it was a necessary piece of the story.

2. Beachler’s “bible” detailing every nook and cranny of Black Panther‘s world is 515 pages.

3. The Oakland-set scene was actually filmed in Atlanta across from the park where Martin Luther King Jr. is buried. While they were filming King’s daughter came to set, “shook everybody’s hand and blessed the project… it was pretty intense.”

4. They used costumes and production design to tell a “color story” for the characters. Zuri for example, both young and old, wears purple as it “represents spirituality, royalty, high rank.” Blue is the color of colonization, so almost everyone in the London sequence is wearing it, and there’s even a blue tint on the image.

5. Killmonger’s (Michael B. Jordan) appearance was based in part on Tupac’s look.

6. They had to manipulate the Marvel logo music “to get it to sync up with the cut.”

7. The attack on the African kidnappers in their column of cars/trucks was filmed on a set in Atlanta the size of a football field, and the brought in over 150k plants and trees and 20 tons of dirt.

8. Shuri’s (Letitia Wright) fake-out in pretending to challenge T’Challa was suggested by Donald Glover.

9. One of the inspirations behind the challenge scene between M’Baku (Winston Duke) and T’Challa was Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012). He was moved and engaged by how interesting and “animated” Spielberg made the political conversations.

10. Neither of them address why the world’s most advanced country/society determines their ruler with a fist fight (which generally speaking favors male rulers over female).

11. While they were scouting landscapes and locales in South Africa Coogler was introduced to a rhinoceros named M20 at a wildlife preserve, “and he was the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” He heard later that they had to remove its horn to protect the creature from poachers. W’Kabi’s (Daniel Kaluuya) rhino is named M20 after the real-life one, but in the film it’s actually a horse he’s feeding the apple to which they then overlayed with a CG rhino.

12. The palace is built atop a pyramid inspired by early ones in the country of Mali. “A lot of the mud palaces and pyramids in Mali date back before 4th century,” she says. “They’re very old,” she says before adding “don’t quote me on that one.”

13. The big car chase through Busan consists of elements filmed in Atlanta and South Korea.

14. Coogler praises almost every cast member who appears on the screen, but he appears especially impressed by Andy Serkis (who plays Ulysses Klaue). “Geez what an actor. He would do physical things that were insane. Just having that kind of body control and knowing the parameters of visual effects… I’ve never seen anything like it. He was so impressive every day.”

15. T’Challa’s conversation with Zuri (Forest Whitaker) where he gets the truth about his father and uncle is the most important scene in the film to Coogler. Francis Ford Coppola agrees, and when he watched an early cut of the film he immediately asked to watch this scene again.

16. It’s not made explicitly clear in the film, but the early scene of Killmonger’s father N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) shows him making plans to break the boy’s mother out of jail. They don’t succeed, clearly, and she ends up passing away behind bars leaving young Killmonger to grow up with neither parent.

17. Killmonger is partially inspired by a veteran Coogler once met in New York City who shared some stories about his time in the service. “It was about the pain and the matter-of-factness to it that stuck to me.”

18. Neither of them address why Killmonger is allowed to kill Zuri during the challenge with T’Challa and not face any consequences. Is everyone fair game during a challenge? Is it essentially the purge, Wakanda style?

19. Coogler sees the challenge’s end — T’Challa being tossed to his death over the waterfall — as him “paying for sins he didn’t commit,” and while that’s true there’s something to be said for his silence after learning the truth about his cousin. He could have spoken to Killmonger privately, he could have extended compassion and a plea for forgiveness, but instead he treats Killmonger like an invader. T’Challa may not have committed the original sin, but he allows it to continue.

20. The tense talk between Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) after Killmonger “kills” T’Challa was partially improvised between the two actors.

21. T’Challa’s “ancestral plain” — where he goes in his mind while beneath the sand — is the open and vast African landscape, but Killmonger’s is a room with walls. It fits the narrative, but it’s also meant to be symbolic of their competing mindsets.

22. The handwriting in the Wakanda book Killmonger pulls from the wall is Beachler’s.

23. Harriet Tubman was a big inspiration for the character of Nakia. This has more to do with Tubman leading people to safety and working as a spy, but I assume it’s also because she kicks ass in a fight.

24. Duke improvised the gorilla chant during the scene where Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) attempts to talk to him.

25. Uber-producer Kevin Feige told Coogler while they were in the editing room that M’Baku’s deference to T’Challa when offered the opportunity to become the Black Panther is the most honorable thing to ever happen in the Marvel universe.

26. Beachler asks Coogler if he’d describe M’Baku as an antihero. “I try not to look at it like that. I guess you could, but for me, he’s a political leader. That’s who he is.”

27. Coogler suggests Shuri might someday “be a warrior queen,” but he doesn’t go as far as saying she could be the next Black Panther. (For the record, she most definitely could be.)

28. Earlier drafts featured Okoye and W’Kabi actually come to blows on the battlefield, but they whittled it down to his self-realization that his love for Wakanda is more important than his grudge.

29. Coogler’s wife suggested Killmonger express his fear of being locked away behind bars at the end.

30. They pull a rarity on commentaries, especially Marvel movie ones, and end the recording just as the end credits begin.

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“Getting into this fight was bananas.”

“He was big, and he wasn’t nice.”

“This stunt was bananas.”

“T’Challa’s superpower is that he knows who to trust.”

“We often don’t see people like us grow up and get old.”

“The most important emotional relationship is the relationship T’Challa has with his sister.”

“Those rhinos look like giant pot-bellied pigs.”

Buy Black Panther on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.

Final Thoughts

This is an informative and passionate commentary that sees Coogler praising his collaborators, both on screen and off, and acknowledging his desire to honor black histories both in the US and Africa. He says “you know what I’m saying” roughly 98 times throughout the commentary which is unfortunate, but everything else he says makes up for it. The Blu-ray/DVD release is packed with extras, but after you’ve watched them all be sure to give this track a listen.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

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