Danai Gurira. Picture: Chris Jancelewicz

With the cinematic release of the 1960s comic book story of the Black Panther, the film has forced us into a place where we can imagine our wildest and best versions of ourselves and see them come true on screen.

One of those faces is Zimbabwean-American actress Danai Gurira, who plays Okoye, commander of the armed forces, the Dora Milaje, intelligence head and Black Panther confidant.

On screen, Gurira is striking. Besides her good looks, the wardrobe that was selected for her character makes her seem very much a dazzling, feminine and strong warrior.

In an interview with American broadcaster PBS, she is quoted as saying: “I went to grad school so that I could learn all the rules and understand how to break them.”

It is no surprise then, that when the opportunity presented itself for her and cast members to play a far more active role in the creative development of the film- here director Ryan Coogler is credited with being flexible and allowing the space for this to happen - that they took it with both hands.

Speaking before the South African premiere of the film, Gurira said the making of the film for her had been a labour of love. A love letter of sorts; To Africa, to black people.

“It’s really been everything. It was a real passionate commitment to telling the story with authenticity and respect. To celebrating various cultures, languages and really a portrayal of Africa from an African perspective. Which really has never happened,” she said.

This is, according to her the reasoning, why a proper celebration of the film was held in Joburg.

“We moved mountains and were really passionate about this happening,” she added.

On themes around the representation of women in the film, she explained that for her specifically, what was important was that they got a seat at the table because theirs was to represent the points of view of women. And Coogler and the Marvel outfits present in the making of the film allowed them that space.

The film features women in an elevated position where women are strong, and at the centre of decision making, innovation and nation-building. Gurira further revealed that the Coogler’s feminism and his desire to reflect women in a specific way in the film is because of the influences of strong women he’s had in his life that played an instrumental role in his development.

Danai Gurira. Picture: Supplied

This film has, in a big way, aimed to destroy the tropes and stereotypes that are associated with women, and what they’re believed to need to be.

“That’s what we’re after. Showing off the truth that you cannot rightfully box in black women. Black women are deeply varied, and it is our jobs to continue showing these variations through the stories we get to tell. The boxing makes no sense. To attempt to categorise almost half a billion people as one or two types is absurd. And that’s what we’re in pursuit of,” she adds.

The black radical feminist that is Gurira is unmistakable. She gets a spark in her eye everytime she speaks of women and the position of black women in society. 

The one thing I would hazard and say she’s almost as equally as passionate about, is Africa and her development. This continent has been home to her all her life, and she’s resolute about its development.

Danai Gurira. Picture: Matthews Baloyi

The last thought she expresses about the representation of black people, women and Africa, especially in the arts is:

“There’s still a long way to go in having people understand how full of innovation and how pulpitably active the continent is. There’s creativity, ingenuity and active potential on this continent. Hopefully, there’s a questioning that begins to happen about the sources of information on Africa. What these sources portray Africa as. We can’t leave the development up to others. It’s in our hands. 

"We have this, let’s use it. With all the oppression we’ve faced, slavery, colonisation etc, that’s our power. We have the chance to decide how to take ourselves forward. How do we self actualise?

“It’s important to remember that now, we are the they. The work to fix ourselves lies upon us. And we can hopefully use this movie as inspiration to chart a way forward,” she said.

* Black Panther is currently on at cinemas nationwide.

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