For the cover story, writer Karen Good Marable sat down with cast members Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, and newcomer, Letitia Wright for an insightful talk about why this fantasy of an African nation feels so right and so real.
“The idea of creating a scenario where you’re seeing very powerful, empowered Africans is really thrilling to me, something my heart, soul, and spirit yearned to see,” said actress Danai Gurira, who plays Okoye, head of the Dora Milaje, a powerful all-female army of bodyguards.
The Wakanda we see on screen is also one that director Ryan Coogler believed had to touch on the geopolitical issues of Africa.
“I had really been studying the effects of colonization and the African Diaspora, specifically as it relates to African-Americans and Africans, and what I hit on was this concept of what it means to be African,” Coogler told ESSENCE. “I pitched that to the studio as a main theme of exploration, and they were totally interested, which is, to their credit, really cool.”
Coogler’s vision is far different from Marvel’s initial idea of a James Bond-esque geopolitical thriller. The critically-acclaimed director’s vision of Wakanda is of an African nation untouched by colonization. It was a chance for Coogler, the film’s stars, and Black audiences to see what our world could look like had the continent never been invaded.
“What would the African world have been without that imposition?” asks Gurira.
Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett shares how Coogler called her up to play the character of Queen Ramonda, King T’Challa’s (Boseman) mother. She had never heard of the character, but was excited to take the role.
“But a queen is a queen is a queen of a Black nation,” she says laughing. “Just to have that opportunity to portray that image—me, a little Black girl from the Florida projects.”
Production designer Hannah Beachler spent a month traveling the coast of South Africa to create this vivid world and to reflect the agency the film’s characters show.
“We’re trying to figure out how people act because your spirit is going to be different if you were never oppressed,” she said.
Read more on the cast of Black Panther in the March 2018 issues of ESSENCE, on newsstands Feb. 23.