Chadwick Boseman Stopped Marvel From Giving Wakandans a British Accent in Black Panther
Nothing but respect for our king.
Imagine King T’Challa shouting “Wakanda Forever!” in a British accent. It’s not great, right? Thankfully, Chadwick Boseman was insistent that the people of Wakanda speak with an African accent. Boseman told the story on Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast about how he went to bat for Wakandans to have an authentic accent.
In developing Black Panther, Marvel wanted the people of Wakanda to speak with either a British or an American accent, because according to Boseman, “They felt that it was maybe too much for an audience to take. I felt the exact opposite. Like if I speak with a British accent, what’s gonna happen when I go home? It felt to me like a dealbreaker. Having gone through similar situations before where I was willing to, like, stand up for it I was like, well here we go again. So for them I don’t think it was that deep, I think it was an opinion.”
It’s disappointing, but not at all surprising that Marvel prioritized making Black Panther more palatable to white audiences over having it resonate with black audiences. It seems absurd in light of the film’s record-breaking success, but Black Panther was seen as a big risk for the studio, with a lot of pressure on Boseman and writer/director Ryan Coogler to deliver. Luckily, they were both committed to telling the story they wanted to tell. Boseman said of the accent argument, “No, this is such an important factor that if we lose this right now what else are we going to throw away for the sake of making people feel comfortable? So yes that was a huge thing — once we decided to do it, we went for it.”
Boseman also discussed how he and Coogler landed on the Xhosa accent, which is a language with click consonants and one of the official languages of South Africa. Xhosa is spoken as a first language by 8.2 million people and by 11 million as a second language in South Africa, mostly in Eastern Cape Province. In a New York Times article, the social relevance of the accent was discussed:
“What’s special about isiXhosa, and what makes it very relevant to a movie centered on black power, is that it is very much associated with the South African fight against white colonizers — even though that did not factor into the filmmakers’ decision to use it. It was Xhosa people who engaged in a century of fighting against European colonial invaders in the Frontier Wars. More recently, some of the country’s most prominent anti-apartheid crusaders were Xhosa, including Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Thabo Mbeki and Walter Sisulu.”
South African actor John Kani, who plays T’Challa’s father King T’Chaka, also suggested Xhosa on the set of Captain America: Civil War.You can see Boseman and Kani speaking Xhosa briefly in the film. Boseman said of the accent, “I wanted that sound in there. There’s different groups but the South African one brought with it this feeling of things that we knew. It makes you think of Mandela, you know, it makes you think of that sort of esteem, so there a dynamic there so you can be a symbol of peace. He wasn’t always a symbol of peace, but there’s this symbol of peace along with this warrior. So I was sure about this that it was Xhosa, Xhosa, Xhosa.”
Wakanda forever, indeed.
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