Danai Gurira is best known for her work on The Walking Dead and Black Panther, but those looking into her earlier career are often surprised to learn she’s been a champion of African women’s voices for over a decade, dedicating her career to telling the stories of her continent on the stage and screen. Not content with the quality of roles she was seeing in theater, she created her own as a playwright and now has four plays out, one of which made it to Broadway.
That particular play, Eclipsed, focuses on women kidnapped during the Liberian civil war. She drew from that story to add depth to her performance as Michonne on The Walking Dead. Her role as Okoye in Black Panther gave her a different kind of opportunity — to present a rare picture of Africa as it could have (and may still) become, as she told PBS’ Breaking Big:
“The thing that really connected me in a powerful way was her love and her loyalty to this thing called Wakanda. This nation that was never colonized, and consequently became the most advanced nation on the globe, and used its resources for its own people, which Africa never got to do. The idea of being a guardian of that place, of being a protector alongside Black Panther, to me, that just resonated so deeply. Africans always wonder, who would we have been if we weren’t colonized?
“I’m just thankful I got to be a part of it. It sort of shows that world where we think beyond whatever trauma we’ve experienced as a continent and we reclaim ourselves and our greatness and we find our way to our best modernity. This continent is powerful and wealthy and has astounding potential. We have to reclaim ourselves, reclaim the power of who we are.”
Breaking Big finished its feature on Gurira focusing not on her big screen success but a story from one of her theater teachers from NYU’s Tisch School of The Arts. “I know Danai has been very vocal about the lack of great and passionate roles for African Americans, but one of the most remarkable things and touching things that ever happened to me working here for 25 years,” the teacher said. “A young African American woman came in and she said ‘I’m going to do Ophelia from Hamlet … and a piece from In The Continuum by Danai Guriria.”
(Via PBS’s Breaking Big)