Marvel's Black Panther has become one of the most commercially and critically successful films in history, earning over $1 billion worldwide, breaking multiple box office records, and securing three wins at the 2019 Academy Awards. But to many, the film's greatest achievement was the way it celebrated black culture while disrupting the long-held beliefs about what a black-led project had to be.
"In Black Panther, I felt that the African experience was allowed to exist aspirationally," the film's star Lupita Nyong'o said in her recent Vanity Fair cover story. "I think it’s more common in America to hear of the struggle of black people than it is to hear of the success. It’s more of a sensation to have a headline about a struggle, you know? ‘Lupita Shunned by People for Her Hair Texture.’ The struggle through having dark skin is clickbait. So when Black Panther came along ... it was so refreshing to work on an African narrative that did not lead with the struggle of being African."
Nyong'o also said she had a lot of faith in director Ryan Coogler's vision, so much so that she agreed to join Panther before the script was completed.
"When I choose projects, I want to have faith that as an artist it will speak to a time when it is needed as much as it speaks to me at the time that I make it," she said. Vanity Fair points out that Coogler and Joe Robert Cole began writing the superhero flick while Barack Obama was still in office; Black Panther hit theaters one year into Donald Trump's presidency.
"I really understood this with Black Panther, when we were making that movie in such a different political climate than the one in which it came out," Nyong'o continued. "Ryan was speaking to a future relevance that he could not have predicted ... I read the script for the first time six weeks before we started shooting."
The cover story also addressed Nyong'o's 2017 New York Times op-ed, in which she detailed her unsettling encounters with accused sexual predator Harvey Weinstein. The Oscar-winning actress recalled several instances where the disgraced producer had sexually harassed her before she had become a big name. Nyong'o shared her story as the Me Too movement was shaking up Hollywood, exposing a culture of sexism and abuse that has plagued the entertainment industry for decades. In the years since Me Too launched, Nyong'o has noticed a change within the business, and has hope that it will only get better.
"There is definitely more of a sensitivity toward sexism, chauvinism, abuse ... In the past, when it came to physical combat, there were always consultants on set, but when it came to intimacy there was never, ever somebody present to help actors navigate that," she said. "Now you have that, which I think is a great inclusion, and ensures that those kinds of abuses don’t happen. I think there’s also at times an oversensitivity, which I just think is the nature of the pendulum shifting, and it takes time to find the balance. I’m quite happy that there is that kind of extreme change, and hopefully we find equilibrium as we move forward."
The cover story photos, shot by Jackie Nickerson and styled by Samira Nasr, have also generated a lot of positive buzz on social media:
Vanity Fair has also released a supplementary video about Nyong'o's most memorable style moments. You can check it out below.