Lupita Nyong'o hails Black Panther's female empowerment message
Black Panther star Lupita Nyong'o praises movie's message of female empowerment
If Africa is considered to be a cradle of civilisation, then the fictional African nation of Wakanda in the Marvel superhero film Black Panther has to be the embodiment of all that is good and right in the modern world.
From unparalleled technological sophistication to the empowerment of women, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o recognises that this figment of the imagination that was spawned in comic books in 1966 is setting the tone for everyone, especially young girls.
The 34-year-old Kenyan-Mexican actress plays Nakia, the love interest of T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and an operative of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda who serve as the king's bodyguards.
She told The New Paper during a round-table interview at the Four Seasons hotel in Seoul, South Korea, last week: "Wakanda has a lot to teach the world as we know it.
"It is quite the idyllic society in as far as that man and woman are able to realise their full potential.
"So, in terms of gender relations, that is progressive and something we can appreciate and hopefully aspire to."
That progressiveness is symbolised by Nyong'o's "war dog, undercover spy" role in the movie, which tells the story of T'Challa returning home to Wakanda after his father's death in 2016's Captain America: Civil War.
But T'Challa's mettle as king - and Black Panther - is tested when he is drawn into a conflict that puts Wakanda and the entire world at risk.
The movie opens here today.
Nyong'o, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years A Slave (2013), said: "What makes her unique is that she has a quiet sense of power. The fact that she is a spy means she has to be subtle and to have an impact without necessarily pulling attention.
"She also has a special relationship with T'Challa and is a reliable ear for him, and gives him counsel in a way that he appreciates and values.
"It is not your average sweetheart, damsel-in-distress story, which makes her relationship with T'Challa so refreshing."
She acknowledged that while her character shuns the stereotypical path of a female lead, the road to change in the modern world is not as seamless.
"The first step to change is identifying the problem. What is unique to Wakanda as we are introduced to it is that women are seen alongside men," Nyong'o said.
"Just because Nakia's at her most powerful, it does not mean she threatens T'Challa's position as a man. In that sense, we have a lot to learn.
"Hopefully, the movie can help encourage one side to be less scared of the other.
"But there is a lot of subconscious conditioning we have to bring to the fore before we can change it. Little children are going to be watching this film, where the issue on the table is not sexism, because men and women are getting on with it.
"So hopefully, on a subconscious level, it changes their mind to the point that they will stop being afraid of their own abilities."
Nyong'o, who wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times last October detailing her own experience of being harassed by disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and has since thrown her support behind the #MeToo movement, added that it is "much easier to hold the microphone in America".
She said: "America and our industry are going through a profound moment that is exceptional, but that is because it is Hollywood, it is America.
"We do have influence over the rest of the world when it comes to popular culture.
"However, I don't think that transformation looks the same, nor does it happen at the same rate all over the world.
"I hope change is coming and that it is coming everywhere."
Strong women key to Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman's success
Chadwick Boseman is challenging the common saying "behind every successful man, there stands a woman".
The 41-year-old US actor, who plays the titular superhero in Black Panther, believes that the key to his success has been to surround himself with strong women and, in doing so, push boundaries with the notion that behind is backward, alongside is forward.
With the empowerment of women a dominant theme in the action flick, Boseman adds another face to the cause.
"I was told by a very, very wise man a long time ago that the key to my success will be to surround myself with strong women," the South Carolina native told The New Paper at a joint interview with co-star Lupita Nyong'o.
"I am constantly surrounded by strong women. I grew up with a strong mother who has strong sisters. They always covered me throughout my life with prayers, lessons, encouragement. They are all, in their own way, independent. So I have grown up with that my entire life.
"I also have strong women on my team whom I work with every day. Actresses who challenge the story, the director and me - that can only be a positive thing. And to be able to show that to the world through the movie, that is just beautiful."
He also shared his thoughts on another prominent theme in Black Panther, which was evident even before its release or the red carpet premieres.
Boseman, who engaged the same dialect coach from his 2016 revenge actioner Message From The King to perfect a South African accent, said that the barometer of what is normal was set when the project took on a predominantly African and African-American cast.
"I wasn't aware of it (the make-up of the cast) every day, because it was normal and that is what it should be. It really was a normal thing, except during the retrospective that it dawned on me it was a landmark moment," he said.
"Also, this story was done as what it was in the comics - the movie is about a fictional African nation, and so most people had to be of African origin."
On where his character ranks among the Avengers - Black Panther first appeared alongside them in 2016's Captain America: Civil War - Boseman said: "The Black Panther isn't afraid of any of the Avengers. In fact, he is not seeking a spot on the team, he carves out his own space. He gives them another space to go to. He can exist without them."