Danai Gurira: ‘Black Panther’ Will Change Hollywood Depictions of Africa

By Sameer Rao Feb 08, 2018

Three of the actors featured in "Black Panther" discussed the movie’s potential to forever influence Hollywood’s treatment of Black characters—especially those from Africa—in an interview with The Associated Press yesterday (February 7).

"Black Panther" will give Marvel fans their first extended cinematic look at Wakanda, the fictional, technologically supreme African nation where T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, "Marshall") reigns as king. Danai Gurira ("The Walking Dead") portrays Okoye, the head of T’Challa’s all-women special forces, the Dora Milaje. The Zimbabwean-American actress told The AP that the success of "Black Panther," which already boasts tremendous advance ticket sales and critical reception, sets a precedent for future films about Africa.

“‘Black Panther’ creates a precedent that kills the ability of folks to misrepresent and distort the continent,” Gurira said. “The things that it checks off: complex African female characters; African language on a big screen; African characters who are varied in many different ways and heroic; the heroism of Africans for themselves and not needing a White hero—go figure—to reach their goals; celebrating so many specific African cultural-isms. No one can really now try to put forth some product where Africa is seen begging for a White superhero to come and save it.”

Ugandan-British actor Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out"), who plays T’Challa’s second-in-command W’Kabi, said that the film’s incorporation of African languages and cultural themes will also fuel audience demand for better African stories. “To even have 90 percent of the cast speaking in an African accent?" he remarked. To me, it’s like, what is that? No one has ever seen something like that before. You think, ‘Oh I’ve been deprived.’ I think [the movie is] going to mess with people. I think people are going to stand straighter. I think people are going to be emboldened. It’s like, wow we can do this. We can do this at this level and bring it home.”

“Other studios are going to want to make movies like this and understand what the representation of this thing means,” added African-American actor Michael B. Jordan ("Creed"), who depicts antagonist Erik Killmonger. “It was important for the biggest studio in the world to get behind that. Now it’s safe for everybody else to kind of do the same thing.”

Director Ryan Coogler ("Creed") told The AP that he developed these themes after his first trip to Africa. 

"This film, for me, started with this question of, ‘What does it mean to be African?’" he said. "It’s a question that I’ve always had since I learned I was Black, since my parents sat me down and told me what that was. I didn’t totally understand what that meant. As kid you’re like, well wait, why? Like, so wait we’re from Africa? What’s that?"

He traveled to Cape Town, South Africa and Nairobi, Kenya. He found unexpected inspiration in the latter city, where he saw a Maasai man wearing traditional attire while talking on his cellphone. “That’s Wakanda,” Coogler reflected. “That’s Afrofuturism.”