With the exception of the brief tease in the mid-credits scene of Captain America: Civil War, Wakanda is a brand new world within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that will be introduced in Black Panther. It's a place and society unlike anything audiences have ever on the big screen -- but with that fact comes some very specific challenges. In building out the mysterious African nation, writer/director Ryan Coogler had to cinematically define important canonical elements of Black Panther and actually determine how it all worked -- and as I recently learned from the filmmaker, he had some key assistance:
It's difficult to attack, and the big thing I did was work with Hannah [Beachler], our production designer, to kind of come up with the history of Wakanda. We wanted to cover from the dawn of man, up until 2018, and discover how the city was built, what the rituals are, who the tribes are. Things like do they have currency? Do Wakandans ever leave Wakanda? All of these questions were things we had to kind of sort out for ourselves before the actors show up. Because they're going to want to know that stuff!
Ryan Coogler recognized the importance of even the most minor of details in the making of his Marvel Cinematic Universe film, and as I learned about his approach when I had the pleasure of sitting down with him late last month during Black Panther's Los Angeles press days. My first question out of the gate was in regard to how he went about defining the most special parts of Wakanda, including the incredible metal Vibranium and the mystical Heart-Shaped Herb -- which is what gives the titular hero his strength. Coogler admitted it was hard work within building the script, but recognized that it was vital for his cast, and vital for his movie.
In his response, Ryan Coogler also added that there wasn't a whole ton to go on from the comics -- as most Marvel writers tend to lean into the fact that not everything in the canon is entirely defined. In fact, Coogler went as far as to call certain key parts of the Wakandan world "MacGuffins," which is to say plot devices that move the narrative along, but don't really hold any specific weight by themselves:
It was hard work. It was something that the folks at Marvel Studios have been thinking about a lot. Obviously in the comic book Vibranium, and the Heart-Shaped Herb, and the plants of Wakanda have been talked about, but they are also kind of a MacGuffin-ish. They are loosely defined. It's the same way you don't know exactly what goes in the Cap's soldier serum, or exactly what an Infinity Stone is. You just know that it can do these big things.
In Black Panther, Vibranium has a million and one uses -- from specialized technology to the titular hero's specialized cat suit -- and the strength-enhancing Heart-Shaped Herb is not only an incredibly vital part of the coronation ceremony in Wakanda, but allows a spiritual connection between the user and his/her past. Altogether these ideas came from Coogler, his team and the folks at Marvel Studios, who emphasized keeping the roots always in mind. Waid Coogler,
Working with the producers over there, with Kevin [Feige] and Nate Moore, my co-writer Joe Robert Cole, we really wanted to make sure people understood what Vibranium is, and that it's not just this extremely strong metal. It has these other properties that allow Wakanda to have an energy source. Coming up with the idea of how these plants do what they do, how they work, and keeping it African - keep figuring out how it's still ritualistic.
You can watch Ryan Coogler discuss his in-depth work defining the most important and ill-defined elements of Wakanda in the making of Black Panther by clicking play on the video below!