What would you do if you could be the hero for your heroes? Would you start a petition, send letters to your favorite media outlets or even just scream about it to your neighbors? The power of fandoms is quite limitless when their favorite characters are on the line — especially in today’s world. As fandoms continue to expand, the portrayal of fan favorites speaks even more loudly to their loyal audiences.
From superheroes to supervillains, animals to aliens — every fictional character that comes to life on the big screen is supported by their enthusiastic fans; it is the fanbase that keeps characters alive long after a movie ends.
But what happens when something comes between that sacred fan-character relationship? Since fans don’t have the same kind of control over their favorite characters as writers, producers and the entertainment industry as a whole, what happens when those powers dictate the fate of fictional favorites? These questions have circled the internet with every fandom, but they’ve recently been brought back into the spotlight by the ongoing #RecastTChalla campaign.
Chadwick Boseman and the #RecastTChalla Petition
In early 2021, film critic Emmanuel “E-Man” Noisette took to The Movie Blog in an article titled, “Here’s What the #RecastTChalla Movement Means (And What It Doesn’t).” Throughout the article, Noisette discusses the sudden passing of actor Chadwick Boseman and what that will mean for his iconic role within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Using the hashtag #RecastTChalla on social media, Noisette spearheaded a petition to recast the character. Over the course of the campaign — which has not lapsed a year yet — Noisette’s petition has already garnered over 52,000 signatures. The growing #RecastTChalla tag raises questions over both the importance of canon and what “recasting” means to a character’s fanbase.
Boseman, who portrayed King T’Challa, aka Black Panther, in the MCU, was an immediate hit sensation with fans worldwide. The vitality that he brought to the character was infectious, and fans everywhere promptly adopted “Wakanda Forever” as their own battle cry. However, due to the actor’s passing in 2020, many are wondering if T’Challa will live on in the MCU under a new actor.
The MCU’s Response to Boseman’s Passing
To the dismay of some, Marvel announced in 2020 that, to honor the late actor’s memory, T’Challa’s on-screen portrayal will not be revived. According to Complex, Nate Moore, the vice-president of development at Marvel, stated that in the future, “We have to figure out how to move this franchise on without that character.” Although T’Challa was a comic book character long before the creation of the MCU, Marvel says that their decision stems from the need to respect the memory of the actor who brought this character to life on the big screen.
Moore reflected further: “I think we all feel so much of T’Challa in the MCU on the screen, not the comics, [because of] Chadwick’s performance.” Though Moore is speaking on behalf of the entire MCU franchise, one can’t help but feel that personal choice played a role in the decision to move forward without T’Challa in subsequent “Black Panther” movies.
The Creation of #RecastTChalla
Noisette took Moore’s 2020 response as a sign to fuel his call to action alongside fellow fans. Coining the movement “#RecastTChalla,” the critic employs the tag to ask the MCU to “recast the role of T’Challa in the ‘Black Panther’ franchise.” If T’Challa is not recast, this movement argues, the MCU may ultimately “kill” him out of the movie canon. The #RecastTChalla campaign asks for another actor to pick up the mantle first taken up by Boseman instead of laying the film’s character to rest, for the sake of both his legacy and his fans.
As Noisette expanded, “#RecastTChalla is not calling for an immediate recasting of the role. It is simply asking for the portrayal of the role not to be stopped or substituted by other characters.” What makes the petition stand out is how it specifically focuses on reviving T’Challa, while the actual title of “Black Panther” takes a backseat.
Even though Marvel executives firmly believe that their decision to not revive T’Challa ultimately honors Boseman’s memory, the #RecastTChalla campaign maintains that there are alternative ways to pay tribute to his legacy. While Boseman will live on in both his depiction of T’Challa and his other works, fans proclaim that it does not have to be the definitive “end” of the MCU character.
Rather, many in the fandom argue that another actor should take on the role of T’Challa as a means of keeping him “alive” for future audiences. In doing so, fans can continue to follow the character through new adventures and acts of heroism.
Representation is inherently tied to T’Challa’s character, which also fuels the fan-based energy for #RecastTChalla. From his first introduction in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” to his 2018 solo film, “Black Panther,” T’Challa has developed a die-hard fanbase as Marvel’s “first blockbuster Black superhero.” Off-screen, the talents that portrayed T’Challa and his cohort made up the first all-Black main cast to grace the MCU franchise. With the weight of representation hanging heavy on T’Challa’s shoulders, it’s no wonder that fans are incredibly emotional about the character’s removal from future movie storylines.
While #RecastTChalla is not the first hashtag movement to go viral on social media, thanks to the countless personal connections fans have forged with T’Challa, the petition is still going strong today. For example, one Twitter user wrote the following post to join the #RecastTChalla movement: “The Legacy of T’Challa as the Black Panther shouldn’t end with Chadwick, it should start with him. Continue what he started.” Accompanied by a picture of the Black Panther, the post hints at the potential repercussions that can result from suppressing this character for future audiences.
— Winsome 🌻 (@itswinsomegrace) December 27, 2021
Another fan tweeted, “For the last 2 years I’ve been on the #RecastTChalla train because I think the character is just as important as the man who brought him to life. We should give others a chance to honor the man and character.” Most of the #RecastTChalla tweets center on the positive representation that rose from the character and the desire to perpetuate that image in future movies.
A separate Twitter user took a different approach to the movement, pulling from the fictional “multiverse” of characters to argue, “There’s literally no logical reason why we can’t get another T’Challa.” Again, it is that element of representation and “seeing yourself” in media that prompts fans to come up with extreme “solutions” to save their favorites.
Will T’Challa Carry On?
To reiterate, before Boseman brought T’Challa to the MCU, Black Panther has sought out justice in the comic books for years. Since the character’s rich history is intertwined with Boseman’s portrayal, #RecastTChalla, too, invokes the fight for justice. The hashtag is a product of a struggle for a fictional canon, as well as the need to honor an actor’s legacy. For the sake of fans and the petition they created, it must be acknowledged that even after the MCU released an official statement, fans continued to add their powerful voices to the conversation.
The ultimate question that the #RecastTChalla campaign leaves out is who gets to decide if Black Panther will “live on” or not. At the end of the day, fiction is a completely subjective experience, complete with individualized meanings that vary from person to person. While a movie franchise can “live” or “die” in the ways that a company sees fit, those institutions cannot take away from how fictional characters make audiences feel.
The outpouring of love and emotional connections that comes with being a fan of anything transforms characters into a representation of something greater than just their stories. Characters live on because of their fans and their dedication to sharing their fictional favorites with everyone around them. Who gets to decide if it is “Wakanda Forever” or not? No matter how fiction is presented to the public, it is fans’ varied and wonderfully individual perceptions that make fictional characters significant in the long run.
If anything, the power of fandoms and fan culture is the most admirable part of #RecastTChalla. Fans are fighting for the continuation of a character that they love, and with thousands of petition signatures, it’s clear that their efforts are making an impact. Despite what does or does not happen with the #RecastTChalla campaign, it is the energy of fans that helps pave the way for the future of fictional media. So, do you think you can be the hero for your favorite heroes?