I was invited on an all expense paid trip by Disney to attend the Red Carpet Black Panther World Premiere. I hope you enjoy my interview with Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira.
My mother was the strongest, fiercest, most independent woman I have ever met. She taught me all that I know, and one of those things was that you have only yourself to rely on – and your family, your tribe. The tribes of the Black Panther are a great example of that. Watching Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia) and Danai Gurira (Okoye) on the big screen portrayed as women of respect and authority in the Black Panther reaffirmed these teachings. I had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira to year first hand their own experiences and thoughts on their roles in the Black Panther.
Interview with Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira
Nakia, played by Lupita, is a Wakandan spy, selected by her elders to be part of the Dora Milaje, and love interest of Black Panther. Her job is to take on missions all around the world and report back her findings to her King T’Challa (the Black Panther). The softer and more nurturing side of her lands her in conflicts for the good of others, always trying to help those in need. Okoye, played by Danai, is a member of the Black Panthers personal guard – the general of the Dora Milaje. Okoye is loyal to the throne of Wakanda and willing to give her life to protect it. She is the fiercest of the Warriors of Wakanda and also 100% committed to her country no matter who is sitting on the throne.
Real life experiences helped Lupita and Danai in the development of their roles…
Lupita identifies with Nakia’s independent spirit and her loyalty to her country. Nakia is the chosen warrior of the River Tribe, but she’s also also a war dog – an undercover spy, but as a warrior, as a leader of her tribe it means a lot to her to make her people proud. Lupita relates to that and that was her in to figuring out who she was.
Danai related to her characters power of purpose. Okoye was very purposed and Danai feels like Okoye has been purposed since she was quite small. Danai imagined her character as a very intense ten year old who used to watch the Dora Milaje walking around when she was a kid and that was just her focus in life. While Danai herself never wanted to be in the military herself, but when she decided what she wanted to do in life she was very clear about it.
Dania had this to say about how she relates to her character –
I could really relate to that about her, about the way that she is so dedicated to her nation and so dedicated to her people and really holds responsibility, the idea “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I feel like she considers Wakanda like this gem that she has been given to protect and she really takes that on as something that is priceless and that she cannot let slip. That is something that really propelled me, connected me to her.There was another big connection for Danai to her character, but since I want to keep this spoiler free until you get a chance to see the movie, I will be back to edit and update this post once Black Panther is released in theaters on February 16th. In the meantime you can check out my spoiler-free Black Panther movie review fore more.
A Casino and the training of a Bada** in a Red Dress…
Danai went through a lot of training for her fighting scenes through the movie. The training was incredible and the fighting styles of both Lupita and Danai were very different. Dania’s fighting style was very traditional – her character uses a spear and does forms that have been in Wakandan tradition for generations in the casino and her mission is to take people down that threaten the nation of Wakanda.
The idea of stepping into a character who’s connected to this traditional ancient way of moving was really amazing for Danai and she loved how it was put into training and she was helped until the style was found and eventually she owned her character around those movements.
For Lupita 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. When she first spoke with Director Ryan Coogler about Nakia’s fighting style, Ryan said to her that she’s “street” and that was really all Lupita needed to know – which happens to mean by any means necessary she will use any weapon to get the job done. Traditionally the Dora Milaje doesn’t use guns, but Nakia has no problem using guns. She’ll even go old school Latina Mama still and use her shoe. Nakia will literally use whatever she can get her hands on.
Talking about what it takes to bring these characters to life beyond acting…authenticity
Lupita: Well I think for both of us, especially when we’re dealing with African representation in the story, we feel such a strong sense of responsibility and deep desire to see African women on screen that look and feel like we know them to be. With these characters we wanted them to be women that we know. 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 I think that was really important to us. It was also really important to Ryan as well to have women who are standing in their own in this movie.
Women with agency and strength and strength does not mean an absence of vulnerability, it means that you understand, you have it in yourself to get yourself through things, to seek help. Strength in itself is a very complex idea, so it was important to us that the women, whoever and however many lines you have, that you come across as being full and that’s not hard if you commit to expressing humanity. I commend Ryan for this because in the end his story is not about punchlines and quips 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.
The story line and representations were very powerful for Danai. She appreciated seeing Africanism celebrated throughout the movie from costuming to hair. All of the different styles were pulled from real actual cultures and ethnic differentiations – including how hair is celebrated across the continent traditionally and currently.
Danai: “…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 tells those of African descent that there’s one way that they should actually manifest themselves in society in order to be accepted or acceptable. It’s an argument I still hear every time I go to Zimbabwe sometimes. It’s gotten thinner and thinner, but it’s something that still needs to get addressed sometimes and there’s some issues we thought dealt with in the 60s. We thought we got it with black is beautiful and we haven’t. It keeps coming back sometimes so I love that there are so many manifestations of those sort of expressions with Nakia when she’s got her little knots and then she’s got a fro, Okoye loves her bald head…”
Lupita: “I loved that and this differentiation of expression and it all is like there’s things that only sisters can do. We can do the most with our hair than anybody. We can go bald too and it works!”
It’s always a humbling experience to meet the cast of a big movie such as Black Panther, and a true honor to be able to sit down for an interview with Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira. This is the shirt I bought at the Disney Store and wore just for the interview with Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira! Danai loved it and complimented me on it. She even asked where I got it because she hadn’t seen it before. I selected it for my interview with Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira to show my solidarity with them for female empowerment.
Want to know what everyone thought was the best line ever in the movie? Bookmark this page to catch all the updates after the movie is released! If you haven’t pre-ordered your tickets yet, do it now – you can order them online here.
Black Panther Warriors of Wakanda Featurette
BLACK PANTHER stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. The film is directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Nate Moore, Jeffrey Chernov and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole wrote the screenplay.
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