On a list of very bad potential ideas that Civil War and Black Panther avoided with the lightning reflexes of the the Black Panther himself, this one would’ve been near the top.
Speaking recently on the Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast—in the wake of news that Marvel is pushing for Black Panther’s wild critical and commercial success earlier this year to earn the film a place in the Oscar’s Best Picture category—Chadwick Boseman discussed the timely story of Black Panther, as well as his process of developing his take on T’Challa after being cast in Captain America: Civil War.
Not only did this involve rigorous physical training for Boseman, but work with a dialect coach to develop what would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s take on a Wakandan language (in actuality, Wakanda’s language is the Nguni Bantu language Xhosa, used primarily in South Africa). But according to the actor, at first there was a disagreement between himself and Marvel over whether or not the King of Wakanda should speak with an African accent at all, with initial options for either a British accent, or for Boseman to use his usual American one, on the table:
They felt that it was maybe too much for an audience to take. They felt like, would people understand it through a whole movie, and if we do it now, we’re stuck with it. I felt the exact opposite—like, if I speak with a British accent, what’s gonna happen when I go home?
... It felt to me like a deal-breaker. And having gone through situations like that before, where I was willing to stand up for [what I wanted], I was like ‘Well, here we go again.’ For them, I don’t think it was that deep. I think... it was an opinion, they weren’t like ‘we’re gonna fire you,’ but I was like, ‘No, this is such an important factor that if we lose this right now, what else are we gonna throw away for the sake of making people feel comfortable?’
It’s almost baffling to think of now, with the hindsight of just how well Black Panther’s Afro-futurist take on the cultural diaspora of the continent was received. But given that Wakanda is known as a nation unconquered, untainted by the still lingering effects of centuries of European colonialism on the African subcontinent, the idea of having its King potentially speak with the accent of the most infamous of Africa’s colonizers—even with the half-hearted excuse that T’Challa studied abroad as a young man—is... well, an obviously very bad idea. And knowing there was a potential for it to have not gone this way, it makes revisiting Boseman’s passionate reasoning for T’Challa’s accent in the run up to Black Panther’s release in an interview with CNET all the more powerful, knowing that there was an initial disagreement over it:
If it’s supposed to not have been conquered—which means that advancement has happened without colonialism tainting it, poisoning the well of it, without stopping it or disrupting it—then there’s no way he would speak with a European accent.
If I did that, I would be conveying a white supremacist idea of what being educated is and what being royal or presidential is. Because it’s not just about him running around fighting. He’s the ruler of a nation. And if he’s the ruler of a nation, he has to speak to his people. He has to galvanize his people. And there’s no way I could speak to my people, who have never been conquered by Europeans, with a European voice.
Thankfully, this is an idea that never came to pass. Because Boseman’s right—if it had, what else could’ve Black Panther lost?