With the words, “I’ve been waiting for this a long time,” Lupita Nyong’o spoke for all of us at Marvel’s Black Panther press conference in Hollywood on Tuesday.
Even before the cast took the stage, the atmosphere was electric and the usually unflappable members of the press were almost giddy as they awaited their arrival. It was only the night before when Black Panther premiered with a regal purple carpet event at the Dolby Theater, followed by a virtual tsunami of positive reactions hitting social media sites the same night.
Director Ryan Coogler and Marvel’s Kevin Feige were joined by cast members Chadwick Boseman, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, and Winston Duke. They were all smiles and if they were exhausted from the previous night’s revels, they didn’t let on. Only pride and pleasure shown on their faces.
Unlike the typical superhero film, or even the typical Marvel superhero film, where questions from the press about stunts and effects are the norm, the cast and crew were asked about the deeper aspects of the characters and plot, as well as the impact of the films on those involved in the production.
Commenting on the pleasure of finally seeing the finished film, Nyong’o said she was, “So so so excited,” because the cast felt such a sense of ownership of what they “thoroughly enjoyed making.”
Jordan admitted to being nervous about the film prior to the premiere. Coogler’s advice to him had been to just relax and to try to look at it like a fan, but Jordan laughed, saying, “Yeah that’s never going to happen.” But he said that once he saw it, surrounded by his family and screen family, he was able to sit back and enjoy it.
Coogler himself seemed almost overwhelmed with emotion when recounting the experience of bringing Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creation to the big screen in his own film: “I just felt incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to make the film this way, to make the film with this studio…working with Kevin and his team. Not something I would have imagined would happen …working with my mentor, people that I’ve watched my whole life, friends that I have made…It was incredible.”
He went on to talk about working with Marvel, which he said people think of as, “the biggest studio in the world,” but to him it was just “Kevin and his two friends.” He was surprised to find that Feige was completely behind his desire to make the kind of film he wanted Black Panther to be: “a film that was entertaining but that leaves the audience with something to think about.”
Feige said Boseman was their first and only choice for T’Challa, from the moment he and his team started developing Avengers: Civil War during a discussion while sitting around a table one morning. That conversation resulted in an immediate call to Boseman’s agent.
Boseman, though, was overseas at the time promoting his film Get On Up. He laughed while explaining, “I didn’t even have international calling on my phone.” So, his agent told him to get international on his cell and call his mom and it was all settled the same night.
A sense of camaraderie and mutual respect between the cast and crew was palpable as they peppered their answers with praise for each other.
Whitaker, who produced Coogler’s first full-length film, Fruitvale Station, solemnly spoke of his admiration of Coogler: “From the moment, I met him…I could feel the center of what he wanted to communicate to the world…it was a powerful thing to see.” He also said he always thought that Ryan, “…Given the right space, he would do something to change our lives in some way…I’m just blown away watching his growth and how he is able to manifest so much importance and socially relevant moments inside things we want to sit and watch.“
Two of the main roles were played by Serkis (Ulysses Klaue)) and Freeman (Everett K. Ross). Answering the question of whether or not the new experience of being in a production where the majority of the cast and crew were Black had an effect on their world view, Serkis recalled a funny moment between himself, Coogler, and Freeman.
“We were about to do our scene, and Ryan came up to us came up to us and said, ‘You know, I’ve never actually directed two white actors before.” He continued after the laughter died down, laughing himself, “We’re both like, yeah, probably not. I mean it was hilarious, it was kind of hilarious, but at the same time, it was like f**k that’s tragic. It was kind of insane. Kind of weird…But it really was an incredible experience working with Ryan. He is one of the most brilliant, wonderful warm, humble, incredibly clever, articulate, visionary directors. And just to be part of this worked for me.”
When Sirkis put the question to Freeman he deadpanned, “I hated it. I felt bullied.” Then, “No, of course yes, I agree.”
Answering another question about his character’s evolution in the film, Freeman said he was very relieved that Ryan agreed that Ross was going to be more than a “just a schmuck, more than a comic foil…I was very pleased when…they were making him more empathetic and sympathetic.”
“There is an ambivalence about Ross I think, because…you’re not quite sure if he’s going to be down with T’Challa or not but he ends up having his eyes opened…and he went away learning a bit from it.”
“Like Andy says, we’re not short of white heroes in movies you know, so I thought that giving one of the two white characters a bit of a heroic moment spoke very well of them.”
Daniel Kaluuya spoke to one of the major themes of the film: personal cost and sacrifice for the greater good, “I don’t think that there’s a right or wrong. If the cause is just you need to do what you need to do and sometimes there’s sacrifices…there’s just love and whether you do things in a loving way.”
Women play a huge part in the film and the panel’s moderator hit the nail on the head when she said she felt the film could have been titled, “The Badass Women of Wakanda,” so it was no surprise that the there was a lot of time devoted to portrayal of female empowerment, both as a part of the plot and in the actual production.
Ms. Bassett said she enjoyed being a part of a film with so many strong, fully developed female characters. She pointed out that in African culture there is no king without a queen, and she feels this film supports that concept, highlighting the roles of, “the queen, the warrior, the general, the young sister.” She said she was proud to have her daughter and son at the screening, “…Because in their faces and the spirit, they were feeling themselves! And they stood taller after last night.”
Danai Gurira who plays Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje—an all-female cadre of body guards to the king—enjoyed playing such a strong character. She was the first of the group of actresses to get her head shaved which, she confessed, sounded good “in theory,” but it didn’t keep her from startling herself occasionally when she caught her reflection in a mirror. After a while, though, she said, “…a little pride started to grow and…a sort of embracing of this sort of symbol of power in these women.”
The character of Shuri—younger sister of T’Challa played by Letitia Wright—is the brains behind the brawn in Wakanda, and the young energetic and brilliant character is likely to come away as an audience favorite. Shuri is responsible for development of most of the kingdom’s tech. “How [the film] is written is that the men are behind the women…T’Challa is like ‘Go ahead, sis, this is your department, this is your domain so, like, kill it…just do your thing.’” When Boseman and Wright joked about who was the smarter of the two siblings, Boseman laughed. “Well, I allow it.” Wright then clarified that Shuri “is cooler than him, but not smarter than him.”
Addressing the question of what little girls should take away from the film, Nyong’o explained that she loved how the movie showed how women don’t have to be pitted against each other on film. “Often times, we as women fall into traps, there’s a competitive spirit.” In the film, “We see women going about our business, supporting each other, having other points of view, but still not being against each other. The fact that there’s so many of us, we really get a sense of the fabric of Wakanda as a nation. We see women alongside men and we see how much more effective a society can be if they allow women to explore their full potential.”
As if to illustrate the point, Coogler went on to praise the involvement of, “brilliant women from start to finish,” behind the scenes, who weren’t hired because they were women, but because they were the best people for the jobs. He gave special shout outs to Victoria Alonso (executive producer), Rachel Morrison (cinematographer), Ruth E. Carter (costume designer), Lisa Satriano (first assistant director), Hannah Beachler (production designer), and Debbie Berman (co-editor with Michael P. Shawver).
Marvel’s Black Panther opens in theaters nationwide February 16.
Written by DaVette See
DaVette See lives in Inglewood, CA with her husband, Rob, her mother, and her seven (yikes) kitties. She has a BA in English and Theater and a Law degree. When not writing, reporting, and video editing for BGN, she operates Running Lady Studios and produces animated shorts. She was a geek before geek was chic. She loves books, plays, movies, and more than anything, she loves telling stories.
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Originally from the Midwest, DaVette lives in Inglewood, CA and can’t name a single sports team. She’s a sci-fi fan, a movie geek, a drama freak, a Trekkie, and a Browncoat. She has a BA in English and Theater, as well as a Law degree, but don’t hold that against her. She acted and directed for the stage for many years, but really loves filmmaking and writing. She owns Running Lady Studios and she is the producer/star of the web-based talk show, Afro Bites! She is wife to Rob, daughter to Martha, and mom to seven (yes seven) cats. When not covered in fur, she’s a West Coast correspondent and occasional movie reviewer for BGN. Follow DaVette on Twitter and IG @mariavah.