One of the most remarkable things about Black Panther is how this entire world – all these new characters, Wakanda, everything – just come to life like they’ve always been there. True, we met the title character, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), in Captain America: Civil War. But Black Panther takes us to Africa, to Wakanda, where a whole new world awaits and this movie has to introduce us to all of that, somehow. Not to mention, it’s a movie that also gives us a villain, Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger, that has a full arc and specific motivations.
Joe Robert Cole was once part of Marvel’s in-house writers program. Since then, he’s gone on to produce The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story before being tempted back to Marvel with the idea of writing a script for Black Panther, a possibility that intrigued Cole after seeing Black Panther’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War. Ahead, Cole (who shares a writing credit with director Ryan Coogler) gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how he helped bring a cinematic version of Wakanda to reality.
You’ve had to have read the reactions since after the premiere, right?
Some of them. Last night was a late night, and then I just wanted to sleep. And my mom went to the movie with me, and so I was just wrangling, I was just doing a bunch of stuff. So I haven’t had a lot of time to really take a look. But I’ve gotten plenty of texts from people saying that they’ve been looking and it’s pretty positive.
It has to be nice that people are finally starting to see it.
Yeah. I mean, it was really great being in the theater and seeing it with a crowd for the first time. I mean, I’d seen it before, but seeing it with the crowd for the first time was amazing. And then just the reaction after, people talking to me about how they felt about it, and it’s been unreal. I don’t know. It’s not sinking in quite yet because I’m still just processing it all. It was a bit of a whirlwind. And I certainly can’t wait for it to actually hit theaters in a broader way to see what the broader population thinks of it.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were part of the Marvel writers program?
I was a part of the writers program, but this did not come from the writers program.
Okay, so you were part of that before…
So I was a part of the writer program and then once that was over I was working on other things and doing The People v. O.J. Simpson and stuff like that. But I was aware that they were thinking about doing a standalone movie. And then I had read some of the Christopher Priest run and was really fascinated by the character. And then when they introduced him in Captain America: Civil War, I was really pumped because I figured that that meant there was a good chance. And they reached out to my reps and asked if I would be interested and I jumped at the chance and had to pitch for the job, and I won the job.
“Villain” is a weird word for who Michael B. Jordan is playing because he’s a lot more complicated than a lot of other superhero movie antagonists. How important was that to you?