As I was traveling to #BlackPantherEvent, I walked by an advertisement in the Atlanta airport featuring Lupita Nyong’o. I was hopeful that we’d have the opportunity to meet her. I fell in love with Lupita and her style of acting in Disney’s Queen of Katwe. Both Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira play strong supporting female leads, in Marvel’s Black Panther, alongside Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther).
They walked into our interview room together with poise and grace. Both ladies are strikingly beautiful from the inside out. As they took a seat, their posture never gave away as they smiled and laughed. On the other hand, I was exhausted from last night’s Black Panther premiere but excited to discuss the the role of female empowerment in the film.
Interview with Black Panther Stars Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira
Here are a few highlights from our interview with Lupita and Danai.
Q: In which ways do you identify with your characters that helped you develop them as the strong independent women they are?
I identify with Nakia’s independent spirit and her loyalty to her country. She’s a warrior and the chosen warrior of the river tribe, first and foremost. She’s also a war dog and undercover spy. As a leader of her tribe, I think it means a lot to her to make her people proud – and I understand that. I relate to that. That’s how I figured out who she was. I love a woman who is on a mission to make a difference. -Lupita Nyong’O (on Nakia)
I definitely related to her power and purpose. I think she had purpose since she was quite small. I really see her as a very intense 10 year old. She used to watch the Dorm Malaje walk around when she was a kid. That became her focus in life. I never wanted to be in the military, but I’ve been very clear about what I wanted to do. So I could relate to that about her. She’s so dedicated to her nation and people. She considers Wakanda this gem that’s she has been given to protect. She really takes that on as something that’s priceless and she can’t let slip. So that’s something that really connected me to her. -Danai Gurira (on Okoye)
Q: What was the training process for your character’s fighting styles? It looked challenging and yet so graceful.
We trained a lot. We had awesome trainers that took us through so many components. They were so smart how they crafted, with Ryan (the Director), how these women are different. Their fighting styles are very different. Mine is very traditional. Hers (Nakia) is very ‘get the job done’. My character is going to pull out her spear and going to do forms that have been passed from generations of Wakandan tradition. While she (points to Lupita) is just going to smack them and take them down. I love that delineation. I love how they found the different movements for each character and we owned our characters around those movements. -Danai Gurira (speaking on behalf of both characters)
The training was a big part of getting into character. Understanding how someone fights reveals a lot about what their values are and who they are. When we were first talking about Nakia’s fighting style, Ryan said to me ‘She’s street’ and that was really all I needed. She uses any means necessary. Nakia has no problem using a gun, her shoe or whatever. She’ll grab whatever it takes to get the job done. That again, is another way that when put together, we stand in solidarity. We occupy our own space and when we’re going into battle, everyone has a different strength to bring to the table. It’s a way to make fighting extremely rich and full of culture. It’s very specific. -Lupita Nyong’o (speaking on Nakia’s fighting style)
Check out this ‘Entourage’ featurette that showcases their fighting styles:
Q: Speaking of strength, you’ve both brought very strong female characters to life on screen. What does it take to bring these characters to life? What is your process? For many of us, it represents what we want to see in ourselves and what we want to see on screen.
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 a deep desire to see African Women, on screen, that look and feel like we know them to be. So with these characters, we wanted them to be women that we know. The women that I know are complex and deep, they’re about something other than just the man in their lives. That was really important to us. It was also really important to Ryan as well – to have women who are standing in their own and in the movie. Personally, women with agency and strength. Strength does not mean an absence of vulnerability but it means you understand that you can seek help. Strength, in and of itself, is a very complex idea. It was important to us that the women, whoever and however many lines they have, come across as being full. That’s not hard if you commit to expressing humanity. There is a sense of integrity to these people. We really get a sense of what Wakandan society is like. We see a society where men and women are participating fully in the development of the nation. They’re reaching their full potential. -Lupita Nyong’o
Q: Hair and culture seem to a beauty statement. They brought it to where we are today, with the current natural styles. Can you elaborate on that? The crown is important to women of color and it’s a huge part of this film.
The beauty is such a celebration and that’s whats so powerful about it, to me. You often don’t see Africanisms celebrated and I think that’s completely connected to the hair. I love what the hair and costume department did. They really pulled from real cultures and ethnic differentiations in how hair is celebrated across the continent with how hair is celebrated traditionally and currently. There is something really power about all the ways hair was represented there. I love that there are so many manifestations of that sort of expression. Nakia has her knots and her fro, then Okoye loves her bald head. She doesn’t like to wear wigs. I loved that! This differentiation of expression.
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In Theaters February 16th!
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Special thank you to Disney for inviting on an all-expense paid trip to interview the Black Panther cast.