Lupita Nyong’o: The Panther Queen

February 9, 2018
Recently in Australia to shoot a role in Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters, the Oscar winner here discusses her part in the paradigm shifting Black Panther.

Can you describe whom your character is and what it is that you like about her?

Well Nakia is a war dog, which is an undercover spy that is sent out by Wakanda to see the world and then report back, which is one of the ways they stay on top. She is an old friend of King T’Challa, and she is a badass. She is more of a badass than I will ever be.

 How do you feel being part of the Marvel Universe?

I feel great. It’s fun to be part of the Marvel universe and to establish a new part of it, a new nation. There’s a lot of imagination that has gone into this. Every time we had a new set, we were just blown away, because all the sets are beyond anything I could expect them to be. They are very creative and innovative, and just exciting to be occupying this really new world. I think the world is in for something very spectacular.

Is Wakanda not a patriarchy then? You know between the Dora Milaje, the female scientists, your character…

Yeah it seems very progressive in that way, I mean women play dynamic roles in Wakanda. For one the Dora Milaje, they are Black Panther’s bodyguards, his right hand women. And that is a really powerful image to behold. It’s definitely a country that has females doing important things and playing their part in society, which women already do, but just don’t get the credit for.

Is there any special training that you had to do for this film?

Yes, I had to go through a very vigorous boot camp and physical training process. My character Nakia is multi-disciplined when it comes to her fighting style. So, a little bit of Thai boxing, a little bit of Jiu Jitsu, other martial arts and straight up street fighting.

Was this just you alone in the boot camp or were there other members?

We were all in boot camp together. Chadwick [Boseman], Winston [Duke], Danai [Gurira], all of the Dora. We all went off into our own specialties. So, a lot of the time it was just the trainers and me. We were all involved in it together, and we would work out with live drumming, so it had the throb of Africa.

It seems that the cast have a very strong bond. on Instagram you challenged the cast to the Get Out challenge. And whose idea was it to have the Coming to America themed party?

Mine let it be known.  Coming to America is this iconic film and as we are making this film, we are often reminded of lions. We are in a fictional African nation, and you think about what that has been onscreen. We decided to have a joint birthday party and so we thought Coming to America was the perfect theme and because we were all in the right headspace for that kind of thing. The costumes, I mean people got really into it. It’s because we are in that mindset of an imaginative African nation and playing in that world.

#WakandansInZamunda birthday partay! Fet. @chadwickboseman as Rev. Brown

A post shared by Lupita Nyong'o (@lupitanyongo) on

It so good to see so many women in this film, with costume designer, and production designer. How relevant do you think the film will be?

It’s the entire world that we know it today. I feel like in many ways, Ryan [Coogler] was kind of foretelling the future when he was writing the film. There are so many themes that are so applicable right now more so than what they were only half a year ago. I’m really excited to reveal that to the world. I can’t say too much without getting fired, but I think it’s a very aspirational film for people of African descent. For me as an African being in this film, when I walk on set and see those costumes and those sets, I feel it’s like what the continent could have been if colonialism hadn’t of happened, which is really cool. We have borrowed and stolen from African cultures and they kind of pressed the accelerator into the future of what those people could have been like, if we weren’t getting so westernised. It’s a cool thing for everyone to experience because there is a call to the past and also a reach for the future in how this has been designed and conceptualised.

Is there an African country whose culture stands out most in this fictional Wakanda?

Yes, for one thing in Civil War you meet King T’Chaka and T’Challa and they both have accents, so we are all employing the same accent. So, I would say South Africa would be the most prominent in the film. We are not doing a documentary at all, this is definitely about the African culture. Wakanda has been inspired, but will probably end up having its own identity.

So Black Panther is also a movie about identity?

I think T’Challa is newly on the throne, and when we meet him in this film it’s just a continuation of what has happened in Civil War. He is dealing with his father’s death and has to come to terms with being the man in charge in fair and just ways. And also manage the villains that are coming for him and his people. So it’s about identity for him and how he will come to be a true king.

How familiar were you with the movies and the comic books before you took this role?

I was very familiar with the movies. My best friend and I have a Marvel date every time a new movie comes out. So, I’ve watched almost all of them. I didn’t grow up with the comic books at all, so the world of the Black Panther was something completely new when it came across my desk.

What does Black Panther mean for the industry?

What I do know is that it feels really special to be a part of this world, in this particular Marvel universe. It opens up a completely different cultural experience for us, and it was actually spellbinding to walk on set each day and know how monumental this is. It’s colourful, it’s full of flare and soulfulness. It’s really exciting to have it on such a large scale that Marvel offers. I walk on set and see that entire blue screen and think to myself how amazing it is. I think the world is in for a special treat with this film. It offers a different branch of the Marvel tree that is just growing. But it is very much a part of the same universe where you have superheroes doing incredible things and flying around the world and taking care of bad guys. You go on that same journey with all of these really dope Africans.

You’re an Academy Award winner and very respected, but your last couple of roles have shown a very different representation of Africa. How different is the perception of you after doing these roles?

You would have to ask them. I have been very heart warmed by the people of the continent who are so moved by projects like The Queen of Katwe, because it is universal stories, and so the fact that African stories are being told on this international scale is just adding to the global conversation. We’re always consuming things from different parts of the world, so for it to be reversed and for Africans to see their story being told and consumed by others, it’s very heart warming, it’s very encouraging. The projects that I have taken recently are very personal because these are people that I recognise; these are people that I grew up with. To share my story with other people makes me feel more seen and that is the power of cinema. Those of that perspective feel a part of a bigger world.

Black Panther is in cinemas February 15, 2018

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