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Angela Bassett rules in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'

Angela Bassett arrives at the world premiere of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Angela Bassett arrives at the world premiere of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Editor’s note: This segment was rebroadcast on Feb. 2, 2023. Click here for that audio.

The new “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” movie opens with the funeral of the beloved King T’Challa, played in the first film by the late Chadwick Boseman.

Boseman died in 2020 of colorectal cancer. Wakanda’s new leader is T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda, portrayed by Angela Bassett. Boseman touched the lives of the cast members, which made continuing on without him a difficult task, Bassett says.

“I think every tear you saw here was indeed a tear of grief and a remembrance of him,” she says. “To me, it’s just an expression of how much we loved him.”

Under Queen Ramonda’s leadership, her daughter Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, also steps up to guide the country through its collective mourning and restore a sense of normalcy. Shuri matured as a young woman since the 2018 Marvel film and steps into focus in the sequel, Bassett says.

Wakanda covets the Medal of Vibranium, which gives the world immense power. But in “Wakanda Forever,” another powerful civilization born of Mayans living under the sea wants what Wakanda has — and a battle ensues.

The central conflict highlights how white characters play a superfluous, silly role in the film while the Wakandans and descendants of the Mayans fight nearly to the finish. Bassett says co-writer and director Ryan Coogler intended the message of a “better relationship between brothers.”

And she recalls a quote from T’Challa in the first “Black Panther” film: “But in times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.”

“That’s the potential human conflict that goes on in the world,” Bassett says. “But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could come to some resolution, come to some agreement, hold hands instead of being against each other?”

Working with so many fellow Black actors on such a successful project is “awesome in every way,” Bassett says.

“When I grew up at 9, 10, 11 or whatever, the Supremes would come on television, we would literally run outside and yell to the neighborhood, ‘Black people are on TV!’” Bassett says, “because we so rarely saw each other. And we didn’t want you to miss it. We didn’t want you to miss that moment of seeing yourself up there.”

Now, Bassett is up for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film.

And the “Boyz n the Hood” and “911” star remembers one instance growing up that shaped her regal, powerful stage presence: At age 15, she presented a Langston Hughes poem called “Final Call,” which mentions important figures in Black American history. “Send for Robespierre,” “Send for Malcolm,” the poem reads.

“And then you get to the end and it says, ‘if nobody comes, send for me,’” Bassett says. “And I walked off the stage. I remember my knees getting completely weak … Luckily there was a railing there as I went down to my knees, but the audience was up on their feet and applauding. And it was the first time that I had received that kind of energy. And I think it let me know there’s a sort of strength and resilience. And I’m here taking space and speaking up and speaking for others.”

Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Gabe BullardAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.