By Vinette K. Pryce
By now everyone knows the film “Black Panther” is not a documentary about a 1960s, California, Black revolutionary political party / group that scared America straight wearing all-black outfits, toting weapons and fearlessly proclaiming “power to the people.”
In fact, the 1966 Marvel Comics creation is a 134-minutes feature and all the rage for being the highest grossing comic book character, which stars an all-Black cast and received critical acclaim throughout the world and shines a global spotlight on a continent the president of the United States considers a s***hole.
Making its world premiere prior to President’s Day holiday, the groundbreaking film set in the African nation of Wakanda features immigrants, Caribbean nationals and some of the fiercest and wisest women to dominate any dynasty or administration.
Among the women listed in starring roles are: Angela Bassett, Mexico-born, Kenyan Lupita Nyung’o, Guyana-born Letitia Wright and Brazil-born Jamaican Nabiyah Be.
Jamaicans on the island joined legions of anxious moviegoers throughout the world last Friday to catch first day screenings of the anticipated sci-fi / fantasy which in addition to its alluring advance promotion also features Be, the daughter of reggae legend Jimmy Cliff.
Cliff’s foray with acting includes starring roles in “The Harder They Come” and “Bongo Man” with featured roles alongside Robin Williams in the comedy “Club Paradise.”
Be’s reversed path to the spotlight found her singing and acting on the Brazilian stage. Born on the South American continent, like her father she is also a singer.
On his many tours to Brazil she accompanied him singing background vocals and also toured with him extensively.
After arriving here, she attended Pace University to study theater and eventually landed Off-Broadway roles.
This major movie debut placed Be alongside some of Hollywood’s hallmark actors — Forest Whitaker, Michael B. Jordan, Sterling K. Brown, Nyung’o, Bassett and Chadwick Boseman.
Be’s character, Tilda Johnson is actually Nightshade.
Nightshade debuted in Steve Englehart and Alan Weiss’ Captain America #164 in 1973. In the comics, she is able to turn convicts into werewolves with a serum she created. Given her specialties in biology, chemistry and robotics among others, Nightshade was the third villain casted for the film following Killmonger and M’Baku (Winston Duke).
Described by director Ryan Coogler as “the love and light” of the movie, perhaps, the next leading royal from the Marvel franchise will be Shuri, portrayed by 24-year-old Guyanese Wright.
She migrated to England with her mother at the age of seven.
Reportedly, she discovered her passion for acting in 2006 after watching a young Keke Palmer who starred in the movie “Akeelah & The Bee,” a film about a disadvantaged youth who found her identity when she emerged a spelling bee champion.
According to reports, Wright’s parents were not at all impressed with her life’s ambitions.
“In my country where I was born, Guyana, we push more for education…It’s more being a lawyer, doctor, teacher, or scientist. So it was something I had to just really prove — not only to myself, but to my parents, that I could do it, and I can make a living from it, and that I was kind of good at it.”
In pursuit of her dream she attended London’s Identity School of Acting where a multicultural program enabled her to secure roles as a teenager in British television and theater.
The road to success was rocky and by age 20 she battled crippling depression.
For solace she turned to social media, there she lavished praise for a God that sustained her burgeoning career.
“Everybody has their thing that they’re truthful about. My thing is just a love of God.”
Wright posted that she was not ever “going to hide” her religious beliefs and would continue to praise her creator.
In order to prepare for a scene she said regardless of the role “I pray.”
As the teenager who portrays T’Challa’s 16-year-old, tech-savvy sister and the princess of Wakanda, Shuri’s role finds her designing new technology for her country.
She is “an innovative spirit and an innovative mind” who “wants to take Wakanda to a new place.”
Coupled with that she “has a great fashion sense,” Wright explained.
Shuri unlike any other Marvel character or Disney princess sports braids to adorn her head.
“She was such a different character from what I’d read in scripts: A young Black woman who’s super smart and into technology,” Wright said. “I hadn’t really seen any girls on screen who were into tech or science and engineering, and I know most of the world hadn’t either. So I really wanted to play Shuri not just because she’d be funny and smart and a really cool character to play, but also because I knew she’d leave an impact on young girls and young boys.”
“I wish I could have Shuri’s Kimoyo beads in real life — they can project anything onto glass without a remote control!” she said. “I wouldn’t even need my cell phone. I’d just project my YouTube videos onto the wall! That would be so cool…You know, Shuri is just so cool. She’s so cool! How could it not be an honor to play her?”
And while the Caribbean reputedly breeds fierce women, the men are equally bequeathed with a penchant for exhibiting fearsome talent.
From Trinidad & Tobago, Winston Duke represents the region in the blockbuster as M’Baku.
A Yale-educated actor who is already a major fan favorite, he is 31-years-old and the proud bearer of two acting degrees from its school of drama.
Duke grew up in Tobago, in a village called Argyle. His mother worked for the government and had a restaurant that often attracted tourists. Recalling his youth on the twin island Duke said, he recalls showing patrons to their tables, a task which have helped him hone a charming response to strangers.
Although benefitting from a fairly lucrative lifestyle, his mother decided to sell the restaurant when he was nine years old. She moved the family to a studio apartment in Brooklyn.
Motivated by a desire to support Duke’s older sister who pursued a career in medicine, Duke said he felt reclusive as she shuttled back and forth to the City College of New York.
Duke withdrew into himself, spending most days after school going to the library or to a local comic-book store called Winston’s.
Allegedly, that introversion, stayed with him through high school, until one of his Spanish teachers noticed that he became energized whenever he had to make presentations to the class. She signed him up for the theater club and he never looked back, going on to study theater at the University of Buffalo.
He took a year off to hone his craft in Baltimore, then journeyed north again to enroll in the Yale School of Drama, where he became “really close friends” with an upperclassman named Lupita Nyong’o.
History now records that Nyungo became an Academy award winner and will indelibly imprint that Duke is collaborator and costar in “Black Panther” with her younger alum.
Ironically, they were both members of Folks, an acting club on campus for students of color, which was co-founded by Yale alum Angela Bassett.
Reportedly during the first cast dinner for the movie, Duke made sure to seek Bassett out to thank her for the legacy she had left behind at Yale.
Comic book fans will readily recognize his character as the leader of the distant Jabari mountain tribe and a villainous rival to the Wakandan king.
His fearsome presence, towering over T’Challa with a six-foot-five frame, his unique voice added to a credibility not often heard onscreen. Allegedly, he researched and imitated Nigerian accents in order to distance the character from the South African-inspired T’Challa’s. In addition that audial distinction also distinguished the Jabaris from the city-based Wakandans, who largely worship the panther god Bast.
“He’s deeply attached to his community and the welfare of his people,” Duke said.
“This is a lot more than I could have ever expected, especially for my first role.”
“I would love more stories with strong characters of color who don’t always fit the mold that Hollywood has created in the past. I want more opportunities for us.”
The Caribbean triumvirate adds reasons to catch the flick and maybe disprove the shameful description uttered by a leader.
Catch You On The Inside!