Captain America: Civil War is going to be the most diverse modern superhero movie yet made, but there’s one character whose introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a particularly big deal for representation. After all, he’s getting his own movie soon, but more than that Black Panther isn’t just another superhero - he’s a monarch, the leader of an African country. And this country isn’t a nation full of stereotypical backwards natives, Wakanda is a land that is scientifically advanced beyond even the industrialized Western nations.
Black Panther is T’Challa, the prince of Wakanda, and being the Panther isn’t some sort of secret identity he assumes at night. The monarchs of Wakanda defend their people as the Black Panther, a traditional warrior role. It’s a mantle that has been passed down for generations. T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, will be in the Panther suit in Civil War, but does he begin the movie as the Black Panther? I asked Kevin Feige about this at the Ant-Man junket.
“I don’t know how to answer that question without spoiling it!” Feige said. “It is a role that he is still in the beginning phases of taking on, it’s a mantle he is only beginning to take on because his father is older.”
So as T’Chaka, his father, prepares to hang it all up prince T’Challa prepares to take on the mantle. We can assume that at some point in the film it is passed down - whether that be after T’Chaka retires or after he dies remains to be seen. io9 today reported that a future Marvel film could be an origin story set in the past, but this information makes it clear that movie will not be Black Panther.
So if this is going to be a movie where T’Challa takes on the Black Panther mantle why introduce him now? Why not wait for a solo film? Said Feige:
“The reason we introduced him in Civil War is because we needed a third party. We needed fresh eyes who wasn’t embedded with the Avengers and who has a very different point of view than either Tony or Steve. We said, ‘We need somebody like Black Panther… why don’t we just use Black Panther?’ That’s how it went in the development process.”
That makes sense - he’s fulfilling the middle ground role, and I suspect that his allegiances will change over the course of the film. But where does he start out? Where is he today? The Marvel Cinematic Universe happens in real time - Ant-Man takes place a few months after Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the fallout from the final battle is present in newspaper headlines that ask “Who’s To Blame For Sokovia?” So that means somewhere in Wakanda T’Challa and T’Chaka are asking themselves the same question.
“Today, pre-Civil War, post-Ultron I think he and his father are saying, ‘A bunch of vibranium just got out of here and wreaked a lot of havoc. Maybe we can’t stay behind these borders anymore, maybe we have to stick our heads out and make at least an attempt to be a part of the rest of the world right now, while at the same time protecting our people.’ That’s sort of where we meet him in Civil War," explained Feige.
I asked Feige more about the set-up for Civil War in Ant-Man, but that’s heavy spoiler material, so look for that after release.