Lupita Nyong'o on the Social and Political Relevance of Marvel's Black Panther
Over the past few years, comic books have legitimately become cool, probably because there are three or four films released every year that have a smoking hot cast fighting to save the world using technology and skills we can't even dream of. In most of the movies, the protagonist is a white man who usually gets some help from a man or two (sometimes of minority groups) and with the support of his damsel in distress. Wonder Woman rejected that mold for the first time in a super hero movie and people loved the depiction of someone else saving the planet from total destruction. That's why the excitement for 2018's Black Panther comes as no surprise.
The newest Marvel film puts the entire diegetic world in Africa, allowing for an all Black cast.
The protagonist, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), is Black. The villain, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), is Black. Everyone in-between is Black (well except for Andy Serkis, who's like Erik's henchman). Lupita N'yongo , who plays T'Challa's ex-lover and bodyguard Nakia, and Letitia Wright, who plays T'Challa's younger sister Shuri, recently did an interview with TeenVogue to discuss why they joined the film and why this movie will open the doors of representation for more minority groups that are usually excluded from superhero films.
When asked why she was interested in working on this film, Lupita said that playing a strong character (in every sense of the word) that had positive relationships with other women was really important to her:
"In our story, there are so many different women holding their own space. Women may be in competition with each other, sure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an absence of love or respect...You see [Shuri and Nakia] work together, and you see a dynamic that is really encouraging. Making this film awakened me. I walked away from this experience feeling extremely supported, and I felt challenged."
For Letitia, she recognizes that Black Panther's entirely Black cast will open doors for "not just for young black boys and girls, but for everyone. There’s a black superhero, but then we’re going to have more Asian superheroes and more from India." Lupita not only agrees, but also identifies another real-world advantage of inclusion within the stories that are told on screen:
"[Growing up] I didn’t feel like TV was so diverse — but I just took it in stride. What’s really exciting about this is if I can project my humanity onto people who don’t look like me, from cultures that aren’t like mine, why on earth shouldn’t it be the same in reverse? What we’re talking about is the prominence of this particular film and how it is entering into a more mainstream cultural consciousness. Superhero movies are our modern folklore—and folklore is important. It informs our sense of oneness. The beauty of cinema is you all go into a room together and agree to suspend your disbelief and share this experience of another world. For that moment, you are all one in that space, experiencing the same thing. It reinforces our sense of community. These big blockbuster superhero films appearing in moments when we’re so polarized are some of the few chances we all get to be on the same page."
SERIOUSLY PREACH LUPITA! Be sure to check out the rest of the interview here and Black Panther when it hits theaters February 16,2018.