In a sign that the acting world’s respect for John Kani goes deep, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira both gestured with their arms folded into an X – the sign of Wakanda from their hit film Black Panther – when the South African acting legend entered the room.
On Friday, Nyong’o and Gurira joined Kani and actress Connie Chiume for the South African leg of the Black Panther press tour.
The film, which took in a staggering $75.8 million (R881 million) on Friday alone, was set to recoup its $200-million budget yesterday.
The first black man to play Othello is the living embodiment of what an actor should be. Kani is poised but relaxed, cautious, smart and incredibly engaging – but when you start asking questions about Black Panther and the world’s perceptions of the continent, he really opens up.
“I’m 75, and when we were young we only read comic books. It was incredible to learn to speak English with a picture – there was a reference point.
“But when you think about comic books, you think about Batman, Iron Man, Superman. You look at all these and you think, that’s impossible, no black person can be one of those heroes, yet when you see Black Panther you realise, oh my God – I’m in the picture too.
“We’ve been so drilled and indoctrinated not to see Africa as the origin of knowledge, information and everything.
“Our cultures have kept us together for a hell of a long time, and here (in Black Panther) you see words in Xhosa, women dressed as warriors; you see some of the elders in Masai. It says we’re here.”
Black Panther is set to become one of 2018’s biggest blockbusters. From its director to the main cast, white faces are limited.
Interwoven with the storyline are African actors, music, languages, cultures and beliefs. Black Panther follows T’Challa (Michael B Jordan) who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda (Kani) returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his place as king.
But when a powerful enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle is tested as he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk.
In Wakanda, Black Panther explores an alternate Africa that was never burdened with colonialism, as well as different layers of African diaspora.
“It’s starting a conversation that’s long overdue. The film brilliantly represents a myriad of perspectives and arguments,” said Nyong’o.
“Hopefully it sparks a very robust conversation about things we felt but never expressed in a manner that brings us all together. “Something can shift when we experience something culturally together. To do so in a movie that has such mass appeal is just astounding,” said Nyong’o.
“When we were making it we’d sit around and really go in on exactly what we were trying to say, and do it with as much care, love and honesty as possible,” she reflected.
The Kenyan-born actress said because the actors were allowed to have so much input, they took ownership of the project.
The working title of the film was initially Motherland and a variety of African cultures and ideals were included in the film, as well as actors from different nations, painting an incredible fictional version of Africa that really excited the cast.
“Wakanda is gender blind, which recognises the expertise and experience of different people,” said Chiume.
“It’s making a statement to the whole world that says ‘here is Africa’. “We were not the only actors from Africa, there are people from Ghana and Kenya.
“It makes the statement that there’s talent here.” Black Panther is currently on circuit.