Black Panther Interview with LUPITA NYONG’O and DANAI GURIRA
After screening Black Panther I couldn’t wait for us to sit down with some of the stars of the film to talk about how awesome the movie was. One of the recurring themes in Black Panther is the strong badass women. Each of them possing their own unique strength. Both Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira characters have roles that define them in different ways, but they both love their country Wakanda.
When we sat down with the ladies to discuss their roles in the film they were proud to talk about being a part of something so historic. They both talked with pride about seeing the African continent portrayed in such positive and accurate way on the big screen. Danai referred to herself as an African-ist when comparing herself and her character Okoye and their love for the continent of Africa.
The passion I have for what I feel the continent could be is very strong in me. I write plays that feed into it. I’m an African-ist. – Danai Gurira
The women in Black Panther had some of the best fighting scenes in the movie. Danai’s character Okoye is one of the strongest people in Wakanda that isn’t Black Panther. We had to learn more about the training routine of these actresses.
Danai G: Yeah, we trained a lot. I loved seeing those guys last night. Jo Jo and — Michael wasn’t there. Michael was my guy. Maddie was hers and they’re just awesome, awesome guys, they just took us through so many components and they really were so smart with how they crafted with Ryan. You know, how these two women are different and how their fighting styles are very different. Mine is very traditional. Hers is get the job done and so my character’s gonna pull out her spear and she’s gonna do forms that have been in Wakandan tradition for generations in this particular place and she’s just gonna take them down and smack them down and I just love that.
Lupita N: The training was a big part of getting into character because understanding how someone fights reveals a lot about what their values are and who they are and so when we were first talking about Nakia’s fighting style Ryan said to me she’s street and that was really all I needed so by any means necessary she will use any weapon. Like the Dora Milaje they don’t use guns but Nakia has no problem using guns. She will use her shoe. She will use whatever. She will grab whatever it takes to get the job done. We occupy our own space and then going into battle together everyone has a different strength to bring to the table and I think that it was a way to make fighting extremely rich, and full of culture in and of itself. It’s very specific.
Next, we moved the conversation around how the ladies brought their authentic selves into the characters and about the process of how much of what we see is simply acting and how much of what we see is part of the actresses themselves.
Lupita N: Well I think for both of us especially when we’re dealing with African representation in story we feel such a strong sense of responsibility and desire, deep desire to see African women on screen that look and feel like we know them to be. And so with these characters we wanted them to be women that we know and like the women that I know are complex and they’re deep and they’re about something other than just the man in their lives and so I think that was really important to us.
It was also really important to Ryan as well to have women who are standing on their own in this movie because personally and I know Danai so well because I know her so well women with agency and strength and strength does not mean an absence of vulnerability but it means that you understand, you have it in yourself to get yourself through things, you know, to seek help, you know that strength in itself is a very complex idea, and so it was important to us that the women however, whoever and however many lines you have that you come across as being full and that’s not hard if you just commit to expressing humanity.
And I think I command Ryan for this because in the end his story is not about punchlines and clips and things to make it fun and enjoyable and yet it’s still fun and enjoyable but there’s an integrity to these people. We really get a sense of what Wakanda’s society is like and we see a society where men and women are participating fully in the development of the nation and in so doing they’re reaching their full potential and that’s good for everybody.
Hair plays a huge part in the culture and conversations revolving black women. The natural hair movement has encouraged more and more women to embrace their natural hair. Whether it’s curly, course, coily, or straight. All of the women in the Dora Milaje shaved their heads bald to play the role. Danai talked more in-depth about having to shave her head and the confidence it brought.
Danai G: Yeah I think the beauty is such a celebration and I think that’s what’s so powerful to me about it because I don’t think as I was saying you often don’t see Africanisms celebrated and so I think that completely connects with the hair. I love what the hair department and the costume department did. They really pulled from real actual cultures and ethnic differentiations and how hair is celebrated across the continent traditionally and currently and I think there is something really powerful about all the ways that hair was represented there because I think there are so many things that tell those of us of African descent people who get categorized as the other that there’s one way that they should actually manifest themselves in society in order to be accepted or acceptable.
I mean it’s an argument I still hear every time I go to Zimbabwe sometimes. It’s like Oh My God they had dreadlocks and I don’t want to go to work with dreadlocks. It’s gotten thinner and thinner but it’s something that still needs to get addressed sometimes and there’s some issues even like we thought somethings we dealt with in the 60s. We thought we got with black is beautiful. We thought we got it and we haven’t. It keeps coming back sometimes so I love that there are so many manifestations of that sort of expressions. Nakia’s got her little knots and then she’s got a fro, and then Okoye loves her bald head and she doesn’t like to wear wigs. She said why am I wearing this thing on my head? It makes no sense.
There’s things that only sisters can do. We can do the most with our hair than anybody really we can go bald too and it works. I think that is a celebration we’ve rarely seen exhibited in such splendor so that really excites me for people to see. – Lupita Nyong’o
Lupita and Danai’s characters are just two of the strong women highlighted in the film. They both brought different layers to the movie. Here’s some more information about Nakia and Okoye.
Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia
Nakia is a War Dog, a Wakandan spy often embedded in countries outside of Wakanda to observe and report back. She must decide whether she should be guided by her duty to her nation or her feelings for T’Challa.
Academy Award® winner Lupita Nyong’o was drawn to “Black Panther” by several different elements. “I had been wanting to work with Ryan Coogler, who I think is brilliant,” says Nyong’o, “in addition to wanting to be a part of the MCU. And then the fact that this was going to be Marvel’s first black Super Hero, and that he is an African king, and the fact that we were going to be creating this really dope African country, and populate it with all sorts of badass African characters—it was a no-brainer, honestly.”
Nakia, who is from the River tribe, is a force to be reckoned with—a highly disciplined and strong-willed woman who gives as good as she gets, especially when it comes to T’Challa. Her warrior skills match those of the Dora Milaje, the elite all-female security force, which makes her an exceptionally effective operative.
Danai Gurira as Okoye
Okoye is the head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female Wakandan Special Forces. She is the best fighter in Wakanda who is not named the Black Panther, and she is fiercely loyal to the throne.
Best known for her immensely popular role of the katana-wielding Michonne in the hit AMC series “The Walking Dead,” actress Danai Gurira was a no-brainer when it came to filling the role of the fearless Okoye, T’Challa’s confidante and head of the Dora Milaje. But beyond the action-driven aspects of the character, Gurira was drawn to Okoye’s
complexities within dynamic circumstances. She is a true leader who believes in the need to uphold the traditions and ultimately the security of Wakanda in the face of powerful enemies.
Offering her take on Okoye, Gurira says, “Okoye is the head of the Dora Milaje. These women have pledged their lives to the throne and to the maintenance of the security of the kingdom and specifically of the throne. But my character, Okoye, is also the general of the armed forces as a whole and the head of Wakandan Intelligence.
Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
Black Panther opens in theaters on February 16th, 2018.