One of the most welcome surprises in Black Panther, for many, was the outstanding portrayal of M’Baku by Winston Duke. Rightfully so, the character and Duke are considered by many to be the breakout star and character for the film. Early in the film, he gives a stirring monologue that sets a backdrop of some of the inner conflict in the technologically-advanced African nation.
Black Panther is the film debut for Duke, who was trained at Yale with the likes of his co-star, Lupita Nyong’o.
In the last few years of his relatively short acting career, Duke has booked recurring roles on Modern Family, The Messengers and Person of Interest, as well as a high-profile, emotional guest-starring role on Law and Order: SVU.
As for his Black Panther character, the M’Baku we see here is different than the one in Marvel comics. When deciding to introduce the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel decided to not refer to the character by his supervillain name, Man-Ape, but only by M’Baku.
In the comics, M’Baku and T’Challa are mostly adversaries. They wage in battle all the time, with only a couple of light moments together, like when M’Baku is somehow invited to the wedding of Storm and T’Challa, gets drunk and picks a fight with Spider-Man. The character has been active in the comics in recent years, but it gets murky on whether his current status is alive or dead. Regardless, Duke’s portrayal is sure to stir up rumors that the character could be written back into the current comic series.
But for the film universe, what we see established in Black Panther sets the stage for a “frenemy” relationship between the two, with M’Baku seemingly going down the road of “anti-hero” as opposed to “supervillain.” M’Baku challenges T’Challa to the throne in the first half of the film, but he becomes the definite MVP of the film when he saves T’Challa. Then, he and the Jabari tribe assist T’Challa and the Dora Milaje in defeating Killmonger, along with W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) and the border tribe.
Had this not happened, that moment we saw the Dora surrounded could have been a lot uglier. But, neutralizing W’Kabi and his men turned the tide, and led to the eventual showdown we saw between T’Challa and Killmonger.
After the dust settles, when T’Challa returns to his throne, instead of W’Kabi, we see M’Baku here with the leaders of the other tribes, symbolizing his rightful place among the leaders in Wakanda as well as the inclusion of the Jabari tribe.
If Marvel doesn’t decide to go down this route with M’Baku, in following Black Panther movies, there is a lot of source material to work with as M’Baku has been a character since 1969. One storyline, in particular, sees the character attempting a coup in T’Challa’s absence, as well as reviving the White Gorilla Cult, another group than the Panther cult that is responsible for T’Challa’s powers. But again, this M’Baku never left the mountains and joined (at least partially) modern Wakandan society like he has in this film.
Winston Duke is about to be booked for the all the roles and rightfully so. The 31-year-old Trinbagonian actor is one of the top scene-stealers in the movie, and lit up the screen every chance he got.
Also, don’t forget that Duke and M’Baku could become a mainstay in the MCU, with the character also co-starring in Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, also due out this year.
Regardless, we’ll be on the lookout for Duke.
Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright and Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis.
The film is directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Nate Moore, Jeffrey Chernov and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole wrote the screenplay.
Black Panther is in theaters now.
Trey Mangum is the lead editor of Shadow & Act. You can email him at email@example.com & follow him on Twitter @TreyMangum.