TV fans recognize Danai Gurira as katana-wielding hero Michonne in AMC’s The Walking Dead. Gurira has garnered much praise for her four-seasons-long portrayal of Michonne, whose complex backstory is laden with trauma. We last saw Michonne and other members of Rick’s squad in immediate peril at the hands of the villainous Negan, and are eager to see more from her when the show returns to AMC this fall.
Outside of The Walking Dead, though, Gurira is a bit of a Renaissance Woman. She’s racked up film festival awards for her roles in Mother of George and The Visitor, and she received a Drama Desk Award for playwriting earlier this year. One thing is for certain: Danai Gurira has skills. What fans might not know about the talented actor, however, is how her own backstory and passion have shaped her upcoming roles in Marvel’s Black Panther and the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me.
In an interview with ET, Gurira spoke about how her upbringing in Zimbabwe has informed her career. She recalled how “hearbreaking” news of Tupac’s death was, even then, and said,
“He was a very complex man … I found it a deep honor and deeply surreal to step into his life and portray the person who was probably the most important to him, his mother.”
The ET article also emphasizes the importance of Marvel’s Black Panther solo movie, which will both highlight the first major African superhero on film and focus on Africa as a setting. In the upcoming movie, Gurira plays Okoye, Black Panther’s head of security. The significance of the film and its setting is not lost on Gurira:
“I grew up seeing a lot of superheroes and they didn’t look like me and they certainly weren’t in Africa…I think that it is something great for girls who are like me growing up. Growing up in Africa, we were looking for images we couldn’t always find.”
The actor has used her talent as a playwright and creator to bring these realities to life. She recently co-wrote and narrated “I Was There”, a short documentary about the children of Nyumbani Village, a sustainable AIDS community situated in Nairobi, Kenya; and her two acclaimed plays, Familiar and Eclipsed, focus on the lives of African women. It’s clearly important to Gurira that her work is able to stand for something larger than itself. The actor says she “wants to see stories coming from the black female perspective,” and that she hopes Hollywood is “paying attention” to those points of view.
As responsible black representation becomes more and more integral to our modern conversations about media, creators like Gurira get more opportunities to do what they do best: tell rare stories. Audiences can certainly look forward to more stellar performances from the passionate actor in these upcoming roles, and perhaps can even hope for some mainstream writing work — perhaps a screenplay? — for Gurira in the near future.
All Eyez on Me is tentatively slated for U.S. release on Nov. 11th, 2016. Black Panther hits theaters on Feb. 16, 2018. The Walking Dead returns to AMC for its seventh season on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 9 p.m. EST.