As Denzel Washington looks toward winding up his glittering onscreen career, a future Black Panther sequel could represent an emotionally apt farewell. Though Marvel’s roster of cinematic superheroes is only getting bigger by the year, few additions have made the cultural impact of Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the Black Panther. Tragically, Boseman passed away in August 2020. Marvel later announced the MCU’s T’Challa would not be recast, but plans for Black Panther 2 were pressing ahead, and in addition, a Wakanda-set Disney+ TV series is in the works, indicating the world of Black Panther will continue, potentially with a successor taking over T’Challa’s mantle.
As the list of A-list movie stars who haven’t yet joined the MCU gets increasingly smaller, Denzel Washington stands out as one of most renowned active actors yet to report for superhero franchise duty. Two Oscars (Best Actor for Training Day and Best Supporting Actor for Glory), two Golden Globes (Best Actor for The Hurricane and Supporting for Glory once again), and a Tony (Fences) only tell part of Washington’s story. A penchant for Shakespeare, a fruitful working relationship with Spike Lee, and era-defining roles in The Pelican Brief, Philadelphia and Malcolm X have carved a cinematic legacy that will prove difficult to match for future generations.
With such an extensive body of work to his name, it’s perhaps not surprising to hear Denzel Washington hint retirement could be looming, acknowledging (via ET), “I’m in the yellow leaf of my career” and claiming any further gigs would need to offer significant creative interest. Though veteran actors rarely pick one definitive final film to serve as their curtain call (and subsequently stick to it), a future Black Panther MCU movie could provide emotional resonance, a fitting tribute, and a fresh challenge for Washington.
The primary motivation in bringing Denzel Washington to the MCU’s Wakanda is the actor’s very personal connection to the career of Chadwick Boseman. Told by the dearly-missed actor himself at 2019’s AFI awards ceremony, Denzel Washington paid for a young Boseman (among many others) to attend a BADA tuition program in Oxford, aiding him on the path to worldwide acting acclaim. Denzel Washington appearing in a Black Panther movie not only represents a fitting tribute to the man he helped become T’Challa, but also honors Washington’s behind-the-scenes contribution to the MCU.
Furthermore, Boseman once admitted, “There is no Black Panther without Denzel Washington… that whole cast stands on your shoulders,” referencing how the trail Washington blazed as a Black actor in Hollywood directly inspired the likes of Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, and Winston Duke. Since Black Panther wouldn’t have happened without Washington’s influence, including the legendary actor in a future sequel would create a touching sense of legacy – a theme at the very heart of Black Panther. Though superhero fare isn’t Denzel’s typical scene, few other movies could celebrate his cinematic influence as openly and earnestly as a future MCU Black Panther sequel.
Thoughts naturally turn, then, to who Denzel Washington could portray in Black Panther 3 or beyond. The immediate choice would be Bashenga – the very first Black Panther who inherited the powers of the heart-shaped herb and became King of Wakanda. The MCU has already shown how Black Panthers commune with their fallen predecessors on the Ancestral Plane – a mechanic that provides the perfect platform for Washington to make a brief but powerful appearance. There’s also a metaphorical value in how Bashenga created Black Panther the superhero, while Washington made Black Panther the movie possible.