Okoye from ‘Black Panther’ Wrote a Play and Here’s Why You Should See It
Before she was killing zombies on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” or leading an all-female army in Marvel’s “Black Panther,” Danai Gurira was a playwright. Her play “Eclipsed,” starring fellow “Black Panther” star Lupita Nyong’o, earned five Tony nominations in 2016, including best play.
This month, another one of Gurira’s plays will be mounted in London at the Young Vic: “The Convert,” about colonialism in southern Africa in 1895. The play runs Dec. 7 to Jan. 26, and we know you’ll love “The Convert” if you relate to any of the reasons below.
You want a “Black Panther” reunion.
Not only is “The Convert” written by Gurira, it also stars another “Black Panther” MVP: Letitia Wright, who played Shuri, a Wakandan princess/tech genius. In “The Convert,” Wright plays main character Jekesai who, fleeing an arranged marriage, comes to work for a Catholic missionary and is then torn between old and new traditions. While “Black Panther” showcased Wright’s fighting skills and ability to delivery snarky one-liners, “The Convert” attendees will see a more dramatic side of Wright, with dialogue that feels like a gut punch.
You’re a Danai Gurira fan.
Gurira trained as an actor, but after seeing so few roles for Black women, she decided to write her own material. If you want to know more about her background and the issues that matter to her, just look at her plays, from the story of women living during the second Liberian Civil War in “Eclipsed” to the colonization of Zimbabwe in “The Convert” (where Gurira’s family is from). It’s clear with these plays that Gurira is telling stories about an Africa that has not been seen before, and making history while doing it — “Eclipsed” was the first production on Broadway that had an all-female cast and creative team.
You love “Pygmalion.”
Gurira said she was inspired by “Pygmalion,” the famous play by George Bernard Shaw, when writing “The Convert.” In the beginning of Gurira’s play, we meet the teenaged Jekesai who does not speak English at all. And similar to Eliza Doolittle, who is taught in “Pygmalion” how to be a lady and speak proper English, Jekesai also transforms. But those expecting a light comedy should look elsewhere. Unlike Eliza, Jekesai realizes that worshipping God and speaking proper English won’t make her any less of a second-class citizen.
You’re interested in history.
“The Convert” takes place in Rhodesia, a British colony in Africa that will eventually be called Zimbabwe. If you’re not familiar with the effects of colonialism in Africa, you’ll come out of Gurira’s play with a new understanding of how that machinery works. It was not just forcing Africans into slavery; it was also the stripping of traditions, and pitting neighbors against each other. It’s an uncomfortable history but in these difficult times, it’s helpful to know how inequality was perpetuated in the past, and how those sins reverberate to this day.
You’re kind of religious, or used to be religious.
In “The Convert,” Jekesai is forced to choose between her family and customs of the past, or to convert and assimilate to British mores. For anyone who has ever felt divided, either by religion or culture (or if you’re a lapsed anything), Jekesai’s journey will hit close to home. There are no easy heroes and villains here, there’s just ever shifting allegiances and increasing complexity. So if you want to feel some intense feelings, this is the play for you.