You don’t need to know anything about this Marvel property to enjoy “Black Panther.” Delightfully relevant, fresh, funny and non-formulaic, Marvel Studios has struck gold again with this sensational superhero treat. A film about an African superhero (Chadwick Boseman) who is also the King of a wealthy and technologically advanced African nation, which mines metal vibranium (the material that provides strength to Captain America’s shield), director Ryan Coogler clearly knows his way around the genre.
With the exception of a few, the predominately all black cast hail from Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. Xhosa, one of the official languages of South Africa, is spoken in the movie, which offers a brilliant glimpse to a fictitious African county called Wakanda and captures the African tradition both visually and orally. Samantha Ofole-Prince catches up with the supporting cast for a breakdown of who’s who.
Lupita Nyong’o – Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o plays a Wakandan spy and Black Panther’s love interest who hails from the River tribe. When we are first introduced to her character Nakia, she’s undercover in Nigeria tracking a terrorist group. Describing Nakia, Nyong’o says, “She’s a bit of a rebel, but is also a loyalist to her country. She is this world traveler, so her style is definitely influenced by the experiences she’s had.”
Danai Gurira – Zimbabwean actress Danai Gurira has the most powerful role and plays Okoye, the King’s protector and head of the all-female Wakandan Special Forces (the Dora Milaje) and is clearly ready (as demonstrated in a few funny scenes) to take down anyone who messes with T’challa/Black Panther. A part that required her to shave her head bald, the actress says it took some time getting used to the bald look and recalls being shocked the first time she looked in a mirror. “There was pride around the shaved head and beauty. Okoye doesn’t want a wig when she has to go undercover and hates it. She has pride walking with that bald head,” she shares.
Daniel Kaluuya – Afro-British actor Daniel Kaluuya plays W’Kabi, Royal Counsel to T’Challa. “He’s got an African male ego and I find that quite interesting and really honest,” shares Kaluuya. “It’s like seeing what that does to a man when he’s been brought up in this certain tradition that is quite sexist in a way and seeing whether he can develop and overcome it. And anyone can.”
Letitia Wright – 23-year-old Guyanese actress Letitia Wright plays the tech-savvy Princess Shuri, Black Panther’s/T’Challa’s little sister. She is second-in-line for the throne behind her brother and is the smartest person in Wakanda. The brains behind Black Panther’s suits and technology Shuri is smart, witty and a delight to watch. There’s a really engaging scene where they have a playful banter as she teases T’Challa about his ‘royal slippers’ while briefing him on the gadgets she’s specially designed for his mission to Asia.“Shuri is someone who’s very innovative. Her brain is always working, and she’s always thinking of solutions to help her country and building gadgets and things like better armor,” adds Wright about the character.
Winston Duke – Trinidadian actor Winston Duke dons on the perfect dialect and delivery as M’Baku, leader of the Jabari mountain tribe of Wakanda. He doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Black Panther/ T’Challa and the royal family and initially challenges him for the throne. “He’s a self-professed man of deep integrity,” shares Duke. “He really cares about his people, and he’s deeply shaped and defined by his cultural identity,” adds the actor who says the language training was fun. “I do more of a Nigerian Igbo influence. It’s not Igbo, but it’s influenced by Igbo because the rest of the cast is doing South African Xhosa. M’Baku’s mountain-strong people, who have been sequestered in the hills in the mountains, have developed to some degree their own culture. We wanted something that had its own personality and had its own beauty. So we referenced Igbo, and that helped. The rhythm of that language influenced.”
Michael B. Jordan – The strongest character and most memorable role is played by the charismatic Michael B. Jordan who previously collaborated with Coogler in “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station.” Jordan’s character is the villainous Erik Killmonger, who has deadly tactical skills and knowledge of Wakanda. Describing Killmonger, Jordan says, “He is always ten steps ahead and that’s a very dangerous attribute to have as a villain because he’s going to sit and wait, and he’s going to plan and calculate every move.”
In smaller supporting roles, Angela Bassett plays Queen Mother Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother, while Forest Whitaker rounds off the supporting cast as Zuri, the spiritual leader of Wakanda. A good friend to former King T’Chaka, he’s now a mentor figure to T’Challa and is also the keeper of the Staff of Bashenga and tends the garden which supplies Black Panther his powers.
Other cast members include South African actors John Kani, Atandwa Kani, Uganda’s Florence Kasumba and Isaach De Bankole.
“Black Panther” releases in theaters February 16. Check out the trailer below:
Samantha Ofole-Prince is a journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news that includes television and film. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos courtesy of Matt Kennedy/Marvel