'Black Panther' Stars Daniel Kaluuya and Winston Duke on the Film's Big Moral Question

The Oscar-nominated Kaluuya and co-star Winston Duke speak on saving the world at the cost of yourself.

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- Posted on Feb 7, 2018

Black Panther stars Daniel Kaluuya and Winston Duke / Marvel

Can you save the world without sacrificing yourself? 

In Marvel's latest superhero film Black Panther, the answer is complicated. 

Black Panther features the comics giant's first Black superhero of the same name. Best known as the king's son T'Challa (played brilliantly by Chadwick Boseman), Black Panther hails from an African country called Wakanda. In the Marvel universe, Wakandans are the only people on the continent that have never been conquered or colonized. As a result, Wakanda is the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nation in the world. 

Wakandans have disguised their country as developing and impoverished, but behind an invisible shield lies a nation rich in the scarce resource of vibranium, a powerful metal that can manipulate energy. Using Vibranium, Wakandans build weapons of protection, medical technology that can heal broken bodies, unheard of transportation devices and more.

Such a potent resource would obviously be of great use to the world. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o's commanding character Nakia wants her wealthy home country to use its resources to help the people in other African countries that are struggling. Erik Killmonger (the "villain" played so deftly by Michael B. Jordan it ought to garner him a best supporting actor nod) wants to take vibranium and give it to warriors in the African diaspora to fight back against their oppressors. But after the death of Wakanda's king T'Chaka, T'Challa is crowned and must decide how best to keep Wakanda safe.

 

Herein lies the moral question at the heart of Black Panther. Knowing that Africa has been the most ravaged continent on the planet—for its people, its land and its resources—should Wakanda sacrifice its security and well-being for the benefit of the world?

 

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After the world premier of Black Panther in L.A., Guideposts.org caught up with Black Panther cast members, Oscar-nominated actor Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) who plays W'Kabi and Winston Duke who plays M'Baku to get their thoughts on whether you can save the world without destroying yourself.

Guideposts.org: You'll have to forgive me. I've been crying for the past 12 hours, y'all. This film is so beautiful. You should be so proud. I think the main morality issue of this movie is whether you can self-preserve and also save the world. Do you believe that there is a cost to yourself if you're going to go and try to save the world? Because I know that Wakanda has been able to be what it is because they have put self-preservation first, and the threat is that Wakanda will not be the same. That vibranium could be used against them. So, understanding, like Lupita's character does, that you may risk something to yourself, is it worth doing?

Daniel Kaluuya: That's [my character] W'Kabi's battle, 100%, because you don't know what that grows into. One of the things that drew me to this film was a conversation with Ryan [Coogler, the director] about Katanga, which is a district in Congo, which I thought was the [real-life] inverse of Wakanda, where it's like, this area where it's got so much resources, but it's sacrificed itself for the benefit of the whole world. If you give a little, what does that lead into?

Wakanda's been kind of like "It's us. It's for us. It's for us," and I do feel like we have that [similar battle] as artists, as creative beings. You step into a certain point, and I think everyone in this room has that way of giving of yourself, and then there's a compromise you make [as a celebrity], and you can't move around, you can't do certain things, but if the cause is just enough...There's good and bad in every situation.

And that's what's amazing about this film for me was that there's no right decision. There's no 'good,' It's just a take. There's just love. It's whether you do things in a loving way. To me, when I watched it last night, it's about grief, and what you decide in grief, and how you decide to handle your grief, especially between T'Challa and Killmonger. How have they decided to handle that death [of their fathers]? How they got through means that they're different people, but they come from the same group. The pain is the same root, and that shows the testament of T'Challa's character and why he is what he is. And Killmonger can't overcome that [grief] for whatever reason, because he's in an environment where the pain is visceral because he's in the western world where it's constant reminders of worthlessness [for a young Black man]. 

So, yeah, that's, for me ... I don't think there's a right and wrong answer. I just think: Is the cause just? And if the cause is just, you just do what you need to do. And sometimes there's sacrifices, but there's also sacrifices if you don't do it. That's the debate, the battle, we're putting out there, and everyone makes their own decisions.

Guideposts.org: Winston, I know your character, M'Baka had a decision to make about what kind of Wakanda to support, based on the divergent visions of Killmonger vs. T'Challa. So what do you think, is there a right answer?

Winston Duke: Well, I think a big part of the question in the film is like, what's the cost of being an isolationist country, or going out into the world and doing something?

I think our history has only presented us with two ways, which are: keep to yourself, and only care about you, or, you go out into the world and use violence and oppression to subdue people and put your way on them. And I think a really powerful thing that this movie delves into is what are the alternatives? If you do go out into the world, how can we do that? And what do we create when we do that? And who do we create when we only take care of ourselves? No man is an island and if you do exist as an island, what are you creating in the rest of the world? I don't know if there is an answer, but we get to question the paradigms that are affixed in our world through this film.

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