Marvel's highly anticipated new instalment, Black Panther, is being hailed as game-changing, with its "unapologetically black" cast and universe, and a hip-hop soundtrack curated by rapper Kendrick Lamar.
It follows the Black Panther, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as he fights to defend his kingdom in Wakanda. Lupita Nyong'o stars as Nakia, T'Challa's friend, adviser and special operative spy for the Black Panther's all-female personal guard. She gives her take on Marvel's new frontier.
Tell the truth, are you an original Marvel fan or a recent convert?
I'd seen Avengers with some friends and absolutely LOVED it. I remember saying then "I have to be a part of that world! Even if it's just as an extra in the background." I was a total fan.
Why did you want to be part of this film?
First of all, I had been wanting to work with Ryan Coogler, who I think is brilliant, in addition to wanting be a part of the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe]. And then the fact that this was going to be Marvel's first black superhero, and that he is an African king, and 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.
You perform some pretty kick-ass moves in this film. How did you train for that?
The stunt training was intense, to say the least. But as I got my ass kicked, I felt more connected to Nakia's warrior spirit. She is a woman who has travelled the world, and so her fighting style is informed by her experiences in the world.
Nakia's fighting style is mixed and, as Ryan described it, "street", which is a contrast to the Dora Milaje who have a way more graceful, more traditional style of fighting. She is a "by any means necessary" kind of gal! So there was judo, jiu-jitsu, Filipino martial arts, muay Thai and a bit of capoeira thrown in there.
Tell us about the society the film represents.
We have here a Marvel universe that is unapologetically black. And to see us occupy an African country with kings and queens and warriors is so inspiring. It's an aspirational nation that really just is rejuvenating to the human spirit.
It's just an incredible world to occupy. And I hope that people who see this can be equally inspired. For me, it was like healing for the African child in me to see this version of an African nation that is at the top of its game and that really has to reckon with itself what role it's going to play with and to the rest of the world. It's extremely exciting.
This cast has to be one of the most diverse Hollywood has ever produced ...
The cultural diversity is that the cast that has been put together to bring Wakanda to life comes from all over the globe. We're talking Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya, Uganda, Germany, America, England, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. There is so much African cultural diversity in this film, not to mention the Asian angle, the European angle, and the American angle, so I think this film has us look at the word "diversity" differently. I think often diversity is a word that we use to describe anything that's not white. But in this film we're talking about the diversity within a very, very large African population that has been assembled to bring this one nation to life. And I think that's extremely important and something worth celebrating in and of itself.
Do you personally feel that Marvel is culturally and ethnically inclusive?
With the power of fantasy and sci-fi that Marvel offers us, we get to project our world into a fantastical space, and in so doing we're able to better look at ourselves. That Marvel has populated that fantastical world with people who look like the people on Earth is commendable. Because it is as it should be, and I'm glad to be a member of that fantastical universe.
What was it like working with this team?
The cast was really a godsend. I can honestly say that I loved working with everyone who was in this film. We had legends like Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker and then newer faces like Daniel Kaluuya and Letitia Wright. Everyone came together with the same level of enthusiasm and passion to bring this story to life. I feel like we all really owned this story and wanted to do right by it. There was like a militancy with which we showed up every day to put in our work.
What sets this film apart?
Well, apart from being unapologetically black, which is something to definitely be noted and celebrated, I hope that Black Panther isn't separate from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and that it just offers itself to the very intricate and elaborate universe that is Marvel. This film presents a different aspect of it, and I hope that people are able to identify with it specifically but also to celebrate it as being part and parcel of the entire Marvel universe.
Why is this story an important one to tell now?
I think we could all use a dose of fantasy and an awakening of our imaginations. Wakanda is something to aspire to. In a sense it's what we could be, should be, and may become. That's worth looking at. I feel right now the world is in a moment where we could really use some rejuvenation and some inspiration, and also just a moment to forget how difficult the real world can be and focus on how hard things are for this imaginative nation called Wakanda. What I love is that Wakanda is a country that anyone in our world can become a citizen of. It's a country that you become a citizen of if you just buy into the imagination of it. And that is powerful, especially now.
Who: Lupita Nyong'o
What: Black Panther
When: In cinemas today