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Fred Topel Interviews and Movie Reviews

Black Panther Interview

Ryan Coogler, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira Letitia Wright, Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett



Black Panther takes Marvel fans to new places in the Marvel Universe, and they don’t even have to leave the planet. Wakanda is an African kingdom hidden from the rest of the world, where they have advanced technology powered by vibranium. The new king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has to leave Wakanda to pursue villains stealing vibranium, only to return to find his kingdom in upheaval.

Boseman is joined by Michael B. Jordan as the villain Killmonger, some powerful women Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett. Forest Whitaker is another Wakandan leader, Zuri. Director Ryan Coogler joined his cast at a Los Angeles press conference for Black Panther the day after the world premiere. Black Panther opens worldwide February 16.

Q: What was going through your mind as the premiere of Black Panther began?

LN: I mean, I’d been waiting a long time. I was just so, so, so excited, because this was a movie that we all felt a lot of ownership of, and that we thoroughly enjoyed making.  When you make a movie like this of this scale, so much happens between the time you perform it and the time you see it, all the computer graphics stuff. Wakanda was built in a room with Ryan and the incredible design team, so to see it alive, to see it almost like three dimensional was what I was looking forward to.

RC: Oh, man, I just felt incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to make the film this way, to make the film with this studio. Working with Kevin [Feige] and his team – Victoria Alonso, Louis D’Esposito, and Nate Moore – has been an incredible opportunity.  It’s not something I ever imagined would happen. It’s good to work with some of my mentors, and these people who I’ve watched for my whole life, and some friends that I’ve made through this process. I had like 50 of my family members there, all from the Bay area. They were talking at the screen.  More than anything I really feel I’m fortunate for that opportunity.

MBJ: I definitely agree. Last night was the first time I saw the film. I called Ryan the night before or the day of and I was like, “Man, I’m anxious. I’m nervous, man. I don’t know what to expect.” And he says, “Look, man, just look at it and try to be a fan. Just watch it and try to enjoy it.” In the back of my head I’m like, “Yeah, that’s never going to happen. But I’m going to try.” When I sat down with my family and this family and the audience, I had that same type of reaction. It was like, man, this is what it feels like. I couldn’t describe that feeling before actually sitting down and watching that film. Seeing yourself on screen, not me personally but people who looked like you, empowered and having those socially relevant themes, but in a movie that you want to sit down and watch and you can enjoy, that Marvel does so well. I think it was a really good balance, and everybody won. Everybody did amazing, amazing jobs in performances and it was an incredible film last night.

Q: Was it also important to hear people speaking with African accents?

CB: This is separate from the movie, but when you’re trained as an actor you’re trained very often from a European perspective. What is considered great or classical is very often British and it’s certain writers and I happen to come from a background that does not believe that. I went to Oxford to study, but I went to Howard and we were taught to respect our writers and our classics just as much and believe that it takes the same skill level and same technique and sometimes techniques that are a little bit different to pull that off. So I think you have to tell the stories and be true to yourself as an artist.  And in this there’s no reason for it because there was a time period where people were asking me questions about whether or not an audience could sit through a movie with a lead character who spoke with that accent. People outside Marvel and so I became adamant about the fact that that is not true, that the intonations and melodies inside of an African accent are just as classical as a British one or a European one and that all of the emotions and aspects of a character can be shown and expressions can be shown through that accent. We have to take this opportunity to show that and he just wouldn’t, if he had never been conquered, if his ancestors had never been conquered and he’s never been conquered and Wakanda is what it is, he doesn’t have to go to Oxford to study. He doesn’t have to go to Cambridge or Yale or any place to study. He actually got his education at home and he would not then assimilate a language that is the colonizer’s language in order to speak to his people. So he had to speak with an African accent.

Q: Forest, did you know Ryan had it in him when you produced Fruitvale Station?

FW: I knew it from the moment that I met him. When he started to express himself, and I could feel the center of what he wanted to communicate to the world, and how he wanted to touch the world, and it really was a really powerful thing to see. Then when he started to talk to me about his ideas, at that time, he was in school. I remember thinking this person, if he’s given the right space, he’s going to do something that can change our lives in some way. And I thought that Fruitvale was that thing. That was the thing that he suggested, one of the projects he had, and really believed in it. I was fortunate enough that he felt comfortable with us producing that for him, and working with him on it. I’m just blown away just watching his growth, every time, to see how he’s able to just manifest so much importance, in socially relevant moments, inside of things that we want to sit and watch. So it’s been quite a powerful experience for me last night to watch that.

Q: For the women, how proud were you all to look on the screen and see yourselves in this movie?

AB: Extraordinarily so and so pleased that this story, written by Ryan, and Joe Robert Cole, and Marvel, that it supported that. In African culture, they feel as if there is no king without a queen. I think in this story, it highlights the queen, the warrior, the general, the young sister. So I was so proud to have my daughter, and my son there last night because in their faces, and in their spirit, they were feeling themselves. They stood taller after last night.

DG: Yeah, when Ryan sat me down and talked to me about his vision and the story and the characters and the women, I was just floored, because you don’t actually get to hear that often. You don’t actually get to hear that often. You don’t actually get sat down and hear that type of a vision. Then it embodied with us being on the continent, women from the continent, but very developed, very complex. It was amazing. It was just like, this is something else. I just want to watch it. I get to be in it? And then, you know, I mean, it was amazing, with the Dora Milaje, the concept of them and then to see them come to life, and then these astounding women who I started training with.

LW: What I love about it as well, with how it was written, is that the men are always behind the women as well. So no one’s undermined. The men aren’t like, “You shouldn’t be in technology and you shouldn’t be in math.” They’re like, “No, go ahead.” So T’Challa is like, “Go ahead, Sis. This is your department. This is your domain. Kill it. I’m gonna work with you to finalize it,” because he’s dope. “Just do your thing. Stay in your lane.” That’s the mentality of the king, and that’s brilliant. So everybody’s got their own lane. She’s cooler than him, but not smarter than him.

RC: Just to add to that, speaking of some folks that were involved with the film who aren’t here to speak for themselves, this film has involvement from brilliant women all over from start to finish. Victoria Alonso who is amazing and she was there from day one. I hired women who were the best person for the job. They weren’t hired because they were women. They were hired because they were the best for the job and that was our cinematographer Rachel Morrison, our costume designer Ruth Carter, production designer Hannah Beachler and our assistant director who was responsible for getting her team going, Lisa Satriano, and post production the film was edited by Michael Shawver and Debbie Berman who is from South Africa and finished by Victoria Alonso. Throughout that process, it was a constant thing where Victoria raised her hand sometimes when we were in a script meeting like, “I think that should happen.” Okay,  you make it and you zig where you should have zagged and working with these amazing women. I was incredibly blessed to have these people, to have their perspective and had their fingerprints all over it. When you saw all those frames, when you saw all that stuff, that presence, over half of the society, over half the population, you know what I’m saying. It was there constantly and in full effect.


Q:  How did you balance all the social themes with a Marvel film?

RC: When I came and sat down with Marvel, after speaking with Nate a little bit over the phone, and meeting him, I was very honest with Kevin. You think of Marvel like this big, huge studio. It’s really just Kevin and his two friends. It’s these two really smart people he writes with, Louis D’Esposito and Victoria Alonso, and on this film it was Nate.  They’re all very different from each other and Kevin is kind of at the head of this. I told him, “I want to make a film that works on every level that you guys’ film work on, and I want to make it with these themes.” And he was like, “Great, let’s go.” I didn’t expect that but as I got to know these guys, especially specifically Kevin, this is what he’s all about. He’s all about making something that entertains people, that works as a piece of entertainment that leaves with something to think about. He was very encouraging and I was getting notes while we were working on this to make it more interesting, make it more personal, push it. It’s real.


Photo Credit: – © 2018 Getty Images

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