Black Panther a marvel to work on, says Lupita Nyong'o
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Black Panther a marvel to work on, says Lupita Nyong'o

Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o filmed the Marvel movie Black Panther mostly on soundstages in Atlanta, Georgia, but the Oscar-winner said she never felt closer to home.

"For me as an African woman, I was in heaven every day on set," she says, referring to the sets recreating the movie's mythical African nation of Wakanda, as well as shooting on location in Busan, South Korea. "This is a film about Pan-Africanism and the people who made this film were just as diverse as the image we show on screen. We had African people from everywhere; Canada, London, Germany, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana and the UK, so it was a real acknowledgement of the wealth of people that have Africa in their identity."

Black Panther is already a record breaker: (from left) Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Shuri (Letitia Wright).

Black Panther is already a record breaker: (from left) Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Shuri (Letitia Wright).

Photo: Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios

Marvel Comics introduced the groundbreaking Black Panther character in a 1966 issue of the Fantastic Four comic book, and actor Chadwick Boseman played the first African American superhero when he stepped in to the role of the Black Panther in the 2016 film, Captain America: Civil War.

In Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed), the superhero character also known as T'Challa returns home to idyllic Wakanda to become king. He's immediately challenged by a powerful old enemy, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who threatens millions of lives. Nyong'o describes Coogler as "a feminist", pointing to the strong female presence in the cast including her own role as a Wakandan spy and warrior, Letitia Wright as T'Challa's brilliant scientist sister and Angela Bassett as their mother and de facto adviser to the throne.

Strong female presence: (from left) Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba).

Strong female presence: (from left) Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba).

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Hailed as Marvel's most political movie yet, the film has already broken the ticket presale record for all superhero movies ahead of its global release this weekend. "I think this is something that is going to resonate around the world because we are all dealing with questions of where do I belong and who are my people and who do I answer to?" says an unsurprised Nyong'o. "What I love about this story is that it's so authentic to what African identity is, but at the same time, it's relatable to everyone. I spent all my life watching foreign cinema, and it was a long time before I realised, 'hey, I'm not represented here with my hue!' But I related to human dynamics, and so this is just the other way around."

The 34-year-old actress has become a tough-to-pronounce name on everyone's lips since her 2013 Oscar win in her feature film debut, 12 Years a Slave. Raised in Kenya by a politician father and a mother who still runs the African Cancer Foundation, Nyong'o credits her parents with encouraging her to develop her own voice, not just on screen but also recently when she spoke out against Harvey Weinstein, recounting a shocking story of alleged sexual abuse at his hands early in her career. "I'm the daughter of a man who has basically dedicated his life to social and political change but I also feel first and foremost I am an artist and I want that voice to be my loudest voice," she says, declining to talk specifically about that revelation while promoting her film. "I think change is not an event but a process and that's what I want to participate in."

After making her professional acting debut at age 14 in a Nairobi-based production of Romeo and Juliet, Nyong'o says she's always been open to anything that captures her curiosity, which might explain her leap from her Oscar role to a recent appearance in Jay-Z's music video for MaNyfaCedGod and her motion-capture CGI role as Maz Kanata in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. "My motivation is still the same; to work on stories I can't stop thinking about," she adds. "It takes a long time to make a film and you want it to be a good obsession."

Black Panther is in cinemas from February 15.

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