It was one of those movie moments. You know the kind, when a character appears on screen and delivers the line-the words that let you know, you’re watching a breakout star. For Black Panther’s Florence Kasumba, that moment came in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. When she attempts to question Prince T’Challa, The Avengers’ Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is stared down by a character credited only as “Security Chief”. With a fire in her eyes that instantly conveys her purpose, she warns: “Move. Or you will be moved.”
*Sigh*….she had the audience at “Move“.
Now, with Marvel’s standalone Black Panther hitting theaters in mere weeks, audiences will once again get to see the woman who is abundantly more than just a “Security Chief”. She is in fact, a senior member of the elite warrior class of Wakanda, the Dora Miljae. More accurately, she’s one of the single most powerful members of the royal guard, a fighter of extreme skill, possessing a sense of loyalty and ferocity beyond measure. Oh, and in her real life…she’s pretty much a bad ass too.
I know this because just a few weeks ago, I got to talk with Florence about her expanded role as Ayo, in Black Panther, her expectations for the film and learn about the time she became a hyena shortly after giving birth. Yes, you read that correctly. She’s a Ugandan born, German educated, theatrical dancer and actress who also happens to be a trained martial artist. I told you she’s a bad ass.
WWC: With Hollywood and television beginning to take a greater interest in superheroes of color, Black Lightning on the CW, Luke Cage on Netflix, what do you see as the future of heroes of color?
FK: I really waited for Luke Cage! That was something I wanted to see. I have a good feeling about the representation of people of color in these films and shows. It shows that anyone can be a hero. I’m happy to be involved in something that can be a part of that.
WWC: You had a role in Wonder Woman as well, portraying Senator Acantha on the Amazonian Island of Themyscria. That was another film that was seen as empowering and inspirational, being the first time a major motion picture had been built around a female lead in decades. How did that experience compare to your work on Black Panther?
FK: You know, I don’t want to compare the two other than to say that they are both strong characters. With the Senator, you have a powerful character who may not fight, but you know that she is trained to fight. In both cases, I was happy to be part of films that highlight strong women.
WWC: Tell us a little bit about the physical aspect of preparing for this film.
FK: There was a lot of training. Hours a day, like boot camp. When you train that hard with people day after day, physically train with them, you become closer to them. They become like your family, which was important for this movie.
WWC: Nowadays, there is a pocket of criticism that comes from die hard fans, people who become upset when comic book movies stray from the source material. Will the fanboys be happy? How faithful is Black Panther to the comics?
FK: [Laughs] I’m not saying anything! All I can say is have no expectations. Wakanda may look different, people may look different but you have to experience it. I want you to come in with an open heart and an open mind and you will not be disappointed.
Later that evening, I had the chance to catch up with Florence again, this time at the 6th Annual Black Comic Festival, held in Harlem, NYC at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. There, amidst the vibrant cosplay, vendors selling beautiful Wakandan themed artwork and booths showcasing indie comic authors, I sat in on a panel discussion entitled Black Panther : A Hero, A Movement. As the discussion opened up to members of the audience and press, we learned just how tough Florence really is. Specifically, she recounted the tale of being in New York when she gave birth to her son. Four days afterwards, looking for a way to kill time, she decided to audition for the role of a hyena in Disney’s Broadway version of the “Lion King”.
“They said to me, ‘Are you sure you can handle this? You’re going to have to spend a lot of time on all fours as a hyena.’
‘I can handle it, I said, I just gave birth four days ago.’ “
The audience erupted in cheers.
She”ll be reprising that very same role as Shenzi in Disney’s theatrical live action version of Lion King in 2019. Thankfully though, we won’t have to wait that long to see her in action again. Black Panther opens on February 16, 2018…and we’re ready to be moved.