As much as I adore Shakespeare and Moliere and Chekhov and the amazing Shaw, I love those dead white dudes. I adore them. I really do, though. And even the modern guys, but it’s that thing where you’re trying, I want girls to be able to pick up stuff that they like, ‘Okay. This feels close to me.’ You know, and that was really why I started writing.
I knew absolutely nothing of Danai Gurira prior to seeing her expertly wield a katana as Michonne on AMC’s The Walking Dead. I didn’t know about her impressive resume and education. I didn’t know about her background in theater. Did you know that she is the writer of a Tony Award-winning play, that started Off-Broadway and went on to be the first play to premiere on Broadway with a cast and creative team that was all female and all black.
Some people may look at such decisions as a form of reverse racism. These are the same people who may feel threatened by films like Marvel’s Black Panther, a movie that is almost exclusively black aside from the inclusion of a couple of “Tolkien white guys.” If we were to look at the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and the larger Hollywood movie-making machine as a whole, though, we find that non-male, non-white demographics are grossly underrepresented.
This is why artists like the late Tupac Shakur (fun fact: Danai Gurira played Tupac’s mother Afeni in All Eyez on Me) and the hugely popular Kendrick Lamar are so important. Danai felt a tremendous void, particularly in the world of theater, for stories about young and powerful, yet flawed and vulnerable black women. She says that’s why she started writing in the first place.
This isn’t to take anything away from hugely insightful and bright young white men like Ronan Farrow, nor is it to take anything away from influential “dead white dudes” like Shakespeare. It just means there needs to be better representation of other demographic groups too, of all ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds.
This worldly and inclusive view is probably reflective of Danai Gurira’s upbringing. She describes it as some form of reverse immigration. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Southern Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe) to pursue their education. Danai was born in Iowa, but her family moved back to Zimbabwe in 1983 when the country gained independence. After high school, she returned to the United States for school, earning a B.A. in psychology (like me!) and Master of Fine Arts in acting.
Whether she’s got Michonne’s katana or Okoye’s spear, Danai Gurira will continue to fight this battle for all of us. As an aside, definitely go watch Black Panther if you haven’t already. Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger is tremendous, as are Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s love interest and little sister, respectively. Wakanda forever!
Image credit: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)