Black Panther: Salute to home girl, big brother and sister of Wakanda

Danai Jekesai Gurira

It is the movie on every lip: Black Panther. Since its formal worldwide release on February 16, the breath-taking superhero movie by Marvel Studios has continued to soar.

Not only has the world embraced the futuristic movie with astounding soundtrack and high-octane action, the movie with a powerful storytelling has broken records and shattered all known myths in Hollywood.

Directed by Ryan Coogler, it stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Freeman, with Angela Basset, Forest Whitakker and Andy Serkis.

Rounding out the talent include home girl, Supe Aluko, South African big brother and Zimbabwean-born actress, John Kani, and Danai Gurira, respectively.

They are among other actors and crewmembers of African decent who contributed in giving the movie its acting credits and who made motherland proud with their efforts in the blockbuster that is resonating everywhere.

John Kani
A veteran actor of plenty credits, John Kani portrayed the character of King T’Chaka.

He also doubled as a language consultant on the movie and was indeed responsible for Xhosa being spoken as the indigenous language of Wakanda, the fictional African nation of Black Panther.

An acclaimed and widely travelled actor, John, who hails from New Brighton in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, cut his teeth in theatre when he was still at school and with the ‘Serpent Players,’ where he worked alongside Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona.

This collaborative relationship resulted in the internationally acclaimed productions, Sizwe Banzi is Dead (1972) and The Island (1973), which in 1975 earned him and Ntshona the joint-recognition, in New York, the Tony Award for Best Actor.

A recipient of an honorary doctorate of the University of Cape Town and South African government’s honour of the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, in recognition of his contribution to theatre and the struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa, John is Co-founder of the Market Theatre Laboratory, with Barney Simon, to give young actors a firm grounding in theatre training.

John said he was excited to be a part of the successful Black Panther, which according to him portrayed Africans in a different light, and particularly at the fact that he was able to influence the adoption of Xhosa as a language in the movie.

He expressed optimism that his role in the movie would be used to inspire Africans to praise their own achievements.

“In the movie, I greet my son, who I hadn’t seen for a long time, and I told the director I couldn’t do this in English; it needed to be in an African language,” he explained.

Danai Jekesai Gurira
Born in the United States (US) to Zimbabwean parents and raised in Zimbabwe, Danai, who played Okoye in Black Panther, is an award-winning playwright and actress.

As a playwright, her works include In the Continuum (OBIE Award, Outer Critics Award, Helen Hayes Award); Eclipsed (Tony® Award nomination: Best Play; NAACP Award; Helen Hayes Award: Best New Play; Connecticut Critics Circle Award: Outstanding Production of a Play) and The Convert (six Ovation Awards, Los Angeles Outer Critics Award).

As Okoye, Danai functioned as the head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female Wakandan Special Forces and the personal bodyguards of the Black Panther.

Okoye is the best fighter in Wakanda, who is not named the Black Panther, and she is fiercely loyal to the throne.

Best known for her immensely popular role of the katana-wielding Michonne in the hit AMC series, The Walking Dead, the actress was a no-brainer when it came to filling the role of the fearless Okoye.

A product of the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, Danai has appeared in The Visitor and Mother of George and also played Isabella in NYSF’s Measure for Measure (Equity Callaway Award).

She currently plays Michonne on AMC’s The Walking Dead (NAACP Image Award nomination) and recently wrapped production on the Tupac Shakur biopic, All Eyez on Me.

As a playwright, Danai has written a number of acclaimed plays, her newest, Familiar, received its world premiere at Yale Rep in 2015 and premiered in New York at Playwrights Horizons in February 2016.

She is a recipient of the Sam Norkin Award at the 2016 Drama Desk Awards, a Whiting Award, a Hodder Fellow and has been commissioned by Yale Rep, Center Theatre Group, Playwrights Horizons and the Royal Court.

She is currently developing a pilot for HBO. Outside the turf, she serves as an ambassador for Bono’s ONE campaign and is the Founder of LOGpledge.org, an awareness-building campaign focused on the plights of women and girls around the globe.

Danai is also Co-founder of Almasi Arts, which works to give access and opportunity to African dramatic artists.

Sope Aluko. Photo Credit: Sinemia

Sope Aluko
Home girl, Sope Aluko, is on the cast list of the Hollywood movie Black Panther.

The Nigeria-British-American-born actress portrays Shaman, a powerful primal leader, who calls upon nature spirits for aid or guidance in the movie.

The multi-linguist (she speaks four languages, including her native Yoruba), who was raised in the United Kingdom (UK), has been married for 20 years and is a mother of four teenage boys.

Sope has had roles on Netflix’s Bloodline, NBC’s Law & Order SVU and Parks & Recreation and guest appearances on USA Network’s Burn Notice, Graceland and Lifetime’s Army Wives, amongst others.

Speaking on her involvement in Black Panther, Sope said she was excited and indeed feels good to be part of a film that positions Africa in a positive and inspiration light.

“Black Panther is such an incredibly well put together film and I am particularly excited that it is coming at a time when Africa is attracting a lot of bad press,” she enthused.

Describing her role in the movie as one of her biggest yet, Sope is blown away by how well the film has been embraced worldwide.

“I knew it was going to be something super special with all the great names and other actors that were on set.

“We all wanted to honour the African continent in a special way and I am glad that this film provided the platform,” she added.

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