Danai Gurira has gained a sizeable following from her role as katana-wielding Michonne on AMC’s The Walking Dead. And, though Michonne was lucky enough to survive the show’s contentious season premiere, Gurira has even more exciting things on her horizon, including a key role in upcoming Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me and Marvel Studios’ Black Panther. In the latter, she will play Okoye, a leading member of Prince T’Challa’s Dora Milaje. Though originally founded as a group of wives-in-training, Wakanda does not view the Dora Milaje romantically, and instead relies on them as a source of protection.
Several months ago, Gurira discussed the importance of African representation on film in an interview, and spoke about how her roots led her to the prolific career she now enjoys. Fans of Gurira know that, although Michonne is not an African woman herself, she points toward a kind of empowered character that Gurira is particularly adept at playing. In a recent discussion, Gurira was even more explicit about the connections between her upcoming role as Okoye and her experience playing Michonne.
In an exclusive for ComicBook, Gurira spoke about how Black Panther director Ryan Coogler chose her for the part. Though one might assume she was hand-picked for her performance on The Walking Dead, Gurira revealed a surprising fact:
“The filmmaker had never watched it. I’m not saying that everyone else that was involved hadn’t, but Ryan Coogler had never watched The Walking Dead. He’d watched me in something completely different… He’d watched me in a more independent film called Mother of George. He’s never seen The Walking Dead.”
That’s not to say that Michonne and Gurira’s complementary skill sets won’t aid the actress, though. She went on to say:
“I’m training right now for Black Panther, and, yes, there’s a lot of ways that they’re extremely different. I’m learning such great, awesome new things. There’s a lot of ways that, yes, one helps another. There are things about using combat that help each other. Absolutely. There’s a lot of new things to learn and I’m really enjoying. There’s so much new. She’s a whole ‘nother thing. Okoye is a whole ‘nother thing.”
This will undoubtedly come as welcome news to fans who love to see Gurira kick ass and take names. It’s also a pleasant surprise to learn that Coogler selected Gurira based on her performance in Mother of George, since it means she will likely have the opportunity to bring a certain level of emotional depth and grace to Okoye. The 2013 Sundance drama, which garnered widespread critical renown, stars Gurira as Adenike, a Nigerian woman struggling with the challenges of a new marriage and motherhood. It’s a movie shot through with emotional depth, which, combined with Gurira’s theatrical experience, explains her ability to provide a multi-faceted performance as Michonne every week on The Walking Dead.
This revelation might also lend hope to fans who want to see Okoye break from her roots in the comics, where the character (despite not being a love interest for T’Challa), is often depicted in skimpy dress and used for her attraction during missions. It seems likely that, given her filmography, Gurira will carry out the role with as much action hero skill as she does Michonne, all while carrying a necessary level of poise.
No matter what, though, we’re excited to see how Okoye and Michonne measure up, especially if any swordsmanship makes its way into Okoye’s repertoire. The Black Panther universe is a rich and action-heavy one, and its translation from page to screen is bound to produce some compelling and original performances.