The moment Florence Kasumba introduced herself as Ayo, T’Challa’s security chief in Captain America: Civil War, audiences immediately knew the type of energy that the Dora Milaje would be giving to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Ugandan-born German actress made her MCU debut by staring down Black Widow (portrayed by Scarlett Johansson) as she sharply suggested the Russian spy turned Avenger “move or be moved.”
What has come after has literally been cinematic history. When Ryan Coogler’s long-awaited Black Panther came rippling through the box office in Feb. 2018, eviscerating any expectations and quickly soaring to the $1 billion mark globally, we learned that women like Ayo, Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), Shuri (Letitia Wright) and the rest of the women of Wakanda were the pulse of the country. Now, as the film arrives on DVD, Kasumba, who gave us our first glimpse of the fearsome Wakandan women, is reflecting on the whirlwind that has been her life and career over the past few years. “You know what, this has been such a long journey, and I was so excited to be able to discuss it again,” she revealed. "Black Panther is such an amazing movie."
Kasumba’s role as Ayo turned out to be much more than she could have ever dreamed of, especially after it was expanded into Black Panther. “When I was cast for the security chief, she was a character that wasn't supposed to speak,” she explained. “So when I finally understood, okay this is a big Marvel movie, I wasn't that intimidated, because I thought, 'Okay you're going to do this job, and it's going to be easy to translate.' Then I showed up, and I was supposed to say a line. Years later, I'm very happy that people liked my interpretation of it.”
For Kasumba, picking up Ayo's spear was much more than learning the culture of the fictional country and the mindset of these warriors. Becoming this woman was also physically taxing. “I did martial arts," she recalled. "I understood what they meant when they said, 'You are a warrior and security chief, and you're confident. You've got go out and deliver your message.'”
Still, seeing it all come together as one cohesive story was more than The Lion King actress could have dreamed of. “My home is Germany, and I was so lucky that we flew from all over the world to America in January to watch the movie,” she explained. “Don't forget, we had to imagine in front of blue screens or green screens -- so when I got to see the movie with the cast and with the people that made it, that was the beginning of a long journey, and it hasn't stopped yet. Back then, we were not allowed to say a lot of things because the movie hadn't come out officially. Now, after a couple of months, I'm so happy and relieved."
Black Panther isn’t the only superhero flick that we’ve seen Kasumba in recently. In between Civil War and Black Panther, she slayed as Senator Acantha in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. Though she’s been in the entertainment industry for over 20 years, I wondered if these two roles have shifted the way Kasumba perceives herself as an actress. “That is a tricky question," she laughed. “I played (Ayo), and, of course, people recognize me or people think, 'Oh, I've seen her in a movie.' That is nice to know because that character shows a different side of me. She is a strong black woman, a warrior. When do we ever get to fight in a movie?! That doesn't happen a lot, that has never happened to me. I think I will see (the effects) when I slow down because when I came back from Black Panther, I went straight into a German show. When I do that, I completely forget about everything else, and I only focus on what I'm doing. That’s good because that helps me stay grounded. I’m happy that the movie is successful and that people say, 'Wow you guys are so strong, you can be so proud of what this has done." But it's good for me to stay grounded. It's a huge movie, and sometimes people think, 'Oh, she's not going to do smaller projects anymore, she's only going to do blockbusters.' But, in my case, you know I've been working for 20 years, and I've done all different kinds of jobs. My goal is to be able to continue doing that.”
Obviously, with its record-breaking sales and command of popular culture, Marvel has already confirmed that there is a sequel to Black Panther in the works. However, there have also been whispers about a Dora Milaje spin-off series on Netflix or Hulu. Though nothing has been discussed or much less confirmed, Kasumba would certainly be down for it. “Playing Ayo is a lot of fun, and I have to say I really miss my sisters, I really miss the other women that got to play Doras,” she said coyly. “Of course, a dream of mine is that we can get together to show more of what we can do. However, we all have to be patient. It took time to produce the movie, and because people took the time to make us that great, that's why they all love it now. Whatever will come in the future, we'll have the most professional people working on whatever they're working on. We all need to be patient at this moment because the movie just came out in February, and with Avengers: Infinity War out, we need to digest that first.”
With the excitement surrounding the DVD release, we already know that Coogler’s commentary and deleted scenes will be major components of the DVD's bonus features. However, Kasumba suggests that viewers should be prepared for even more behind-the-scenes details. “There some deleted scenes," she said. “Some discussions from early on when we started rehearsing and talking about different characters. I think it's going to be very special because we've all probably seen the movie a couple of times, so being able to go behind the scenes, that is such a special experience. I'm excited to see the interviews and to be reminded of how it was when we filmed, because, gosh, it was a while ago, but it was such a special experience.”
Though Black Panther was released just three months ago, Kasumba can already see how the film has forever shifted the landscape of cinema. “That movie is very important because I think even people that were not interested in it, it was still in their face," she reflected. “I see the change, and that's something that's happened already. I wasn't used to having so many people saying, 'We are looking for a warrior. We are looking for a female agent. We are looking for a female this or that.' So, I'm very happy that this change is happening. Again, we have to be patient. The fact that we are talking about this, when the movie came out a couple of months ago, and we still are excited about the movie release. This is good.”
The digital version of Black Panther is now available. The film will arrive on Blu-ray and DVD on May 15.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami.