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Because Chadwick Boseman, who played Black Panther, has passed away, I am assuming that his character will be shown to have passed away in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. But I'm wondering: is it okay to kill your main character off-screen, and make the other characters mention how tragic his death was? Is this a totally okay way to handle a main character, or is it something terrible that should be avoided at all costs?

I am thinking the answer might depend on whether the character's actor died, on whether it's a film, and whether you're writing a novel that's based on fictional characters, but I am not 100% sure.

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Real life forcing you to cope with a death is not actually a factor in whether it works, alas.

It is normally very difficult to deal with important events happening off-stage, because it means everything about them has to be presented second-hand. Not, however, very second hand. It can be possible to use discretion shots even if the original actor is not available: have other characters watch what is happening and convey it with their expressions, or have shadows struggle on a wall to show the fight the real people are engaged in.

Obviously, if a character passed away peacefully in bed or sitting before the fire, it would be natural for another character to walk up, check and report back that death occurred.

Having it happen entirely off-stage requires much skill in dialog, reactions, and the like; in film, this is split up among many factors, from the script to the actors acting the scene, but a novelist has to do it all. It helps if the death itself was undramatic -- peacefully in his sleep at an advanced age -- and the drama lies in the consequences.

Theater does it habitually, and reading examples there may help. (Lugging bodies around is complicated.)

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There are two questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Is the character's death actually possible to depict, within the limitations of your medium and target audience?
  • Does the character's death actually need to be shown?

If the answer to either of these questions is "No", then it's okay to kill them off off-screen.


I can provide a few examples of the first one:

  • The title character of Macbeth is decapitated off-stage by Macduff, who then enters brandishing "the usurper's cursed head". Decapitation by sword would have been impossible to depict on-stage in Shakespeare's day, so he had no other option than to have it take place off-screen. Another example (though not the main character) is Ophelia in Hamlet, who is killed when she falls out of a tree into a river and drowns. Again, this would have been impossible to depict on-stage at the time.
  • It's common in Disney films for character deaths to occur off-screen, as many of them would be too violent to actually depict in a kids' film. Arguably the most famous example is Bambi's mother; the shot that kills her is heard, but not seen, and Bambi is only informed of his mother's death later. Most instances of Disney Villain Deaths (obligatory warning: TV Tropes is a massive time sink!) count as well.

Your example of Chadwick Boseman would have fallen under the first one as well, in days gone by. It used to be impossible to shoot a death scene for a character whose actor has already died, without the conspicuous use of lookalikes. Nowadays, however, you can use CGI and deepfake technology to posthumously insert an actor into a film: Peter Cushing in Rogue One is a prominent example of this.

But do Marvel need to do this with T'Challa? No. Showing his death likely wouldn't contribute anything to the overall plot. They can (and judging from the trailer, most likely will) simply establish that he died sometime between Endgame and Wakanda Forever, and progress the plot from there.

Generally speaking, any time an actor dies in between instalments, it's perfectly okay to establish that their character died off-screen between those instalments, without actually showing the death or even elaborating upon it beyond a simple "they're no longer with us".

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