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Over the course of her career so far, Anika Noni Rose has played every kind of role under the sun, from a Disney princess (The Princess and the Frog) to an aspiring singer (Dreamgirls) to a fierce, uncompromising lawyer (The Good Wife). And in her newest film, the adaptation of the YA bestseller Everything Everything, she switches gears yet again, playing a loving mom who puts her daughter’s needs before, well, everything else. Rose has a resume filled with complicated, fascinating parts, but that’s not the norm for non-white female actors, a fact of which the actor is very well aware.
“I think very often women, in particular black women, are only shown a certain amount of things that they are welcomed into by the industry,” Rose says, speaking via phone in late April. But, she adds, “I’m hoping that that’s changing now. I think that [Everything, Everything] is very different, and not the way that you would generally see young women of color, including not just Amandla [Stenberg], but both my character and the nurse. You’ve got three women of color here who are not seen in the way that we generally are on screen, and I think that that’s a beautiful thing.”
Indeed, Everything, Everything features a cast that’s actually reflective of real life, with, as Rose notes, the three lead female roles played by women of color, and the majority of the parts in general being played by women. Nick Robinson’s Olly, the teenage love interest to Stenberg’s Maddy, is one of the only men to appear on-screen, and this reversal of the Hollywood norm is due in part, Rose says, to the film having both a female director and a female writer behind the source material.
“It was wonderful to be on a set working directly with women and having conversations within the film, real conversations, with another woman, which so often does not happen,” the actor recalls. “There’s a statistic, just speaking on television: only 10 percent of those speaking roles are women of color, and that’s not even necessarily a conversation. You know: ‘Dr, your patient is here,’ or ‘Hi,’ or ‘Did you get the bread?’ That is considered speaking, and that’s not life on screen. That’s not real life. ”
“It was really amazing and wonderful to be able to have true conversation, not only with Amandla, but with Ana de la Reguera,” she continues. “It’s a gift.”
With a script full of roles that gave its female stars actual material to work with, Everything, Everything certainly stands out from so many of its big-screen peers. Its plot, as well, is unique; about a teenage girl who suffers from a condition that makes her allergic to the outside world, the film is a drama, romance, and suspense story all mixed in one. Rose, who plays Maddy’s mother and doctor, was drawn to the film’s originality — “it’s tender, it’s romantic, it’s intimate without being highly, overly sexual, as sometimes teenage films can be,” she explains — as well as its story of Maddy’s personal and romantic growth. “I’m interested in showing all facets of who we are as women, growing and morphing and changing and being affected by the world,” Rose says.
And luckily, she’s picking projects like Everything, Everything that allow her — and the many women of all different races and ages around her — to do just that.
by Sheree L. Ross
Update 7:35 E.T.: A Marvel representative reached out to say that the nature of the relationship between Danai Gurira’s Okoye and Florence Kasumba‘s Ayo in Black Panther is not a romantic one and that specific love storyline from the comic World of Wakanda was not used as a source.
Whether or not he had the approval of Disney when he did so, Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon caused quite a stir in the April issue of Attitude—both of hopeful expectations and of conservative pushback—when he touted Josh Gad’s character LeFou and his “exclusively gay moment.” Though Condon surely had his heart in the right place, the phrase overpromised on what the film ultimately underdelivered: the moment comes when LeFou ends the movie by dancing, briefly with a man. O.K. However, early footage of Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther screened for journalists Monday night movie promises much more.
The scene in question features Walking Dead star Danai Gurira dancing on a boat with her fellow Dora Milaje, i.e., Black Panther’s personal female bodyguards. These women—first introduced to moviegoers in Captain America: Civil War— are the warriors who watch over Chadwick Boseman’s royal family. In Civil War, Uganda-born actress Florence Kasumba made an instant impression on audiences as one member of the select group when she curtly ordered Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow to “move” aside for T’Challa.
In the rough cut of this Black Panther scene, we see Gurira’s Okoye and Kasumba’s Ayo swaying rhythmically back in formation with the rest of their team. Okoye eyes Ayo flirtatiously for a long time as the camera pans in on them. Eventually, she says, appreciatively and appraisingly, “You look good.” Ayo responds in kind. Okoye grins and replies, “I know.”
This quick moment between two warrior women on their way to T’Challa’s coronation leans into a current very popular run of the Black Panther comic. A 2016 spin-off called World of Wakanda by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, and Yona Harvey is all about the relationship between two members of the Dora Milaje. The official description:
A Wakandan love story—its tenderness matched only by its brutality.
You know them now as The Midnight Angels, but in this story they are
just Ayo and Aneka, young women recruited to become Dora Milaje, an
elite task force trained to protect the crown at all costs. What happens when your nation needs your hearts
and minds, but you already gave them to each other?
Other footage from the film screened early for reporters centers more closely on T’Challa, including scenes of a traditional and elaborate Wakandan ceremony, and a shoot-out in a South Korea casino featuring Andy Serkis’s Claw and Martin Freeman’s Everett K. Ross. For fans of Lupita Nyong’o, there was also a pair of scenes showing her character dancing (she gets her own boat) and taking out several armed guards.
The costumes in Black Panther—especially the ones worn by the Dora Milaje—are truly dazzling, with a lot of bright colors and elaborate patterns. Angela Bassett, as T’Challa’s mother and Queen of Wakanda, sports a jaw-dropping coiffure of snow-white dreadlocks. According to the production team, director Ryan Coogler was interested in giving Black Panther—the star of which debuted in Civil War—an updated look that was more faithful to the current run of comics. And though Marvel didn’t screen any footage of Michael B. Jordan in costume—he’s playing villainous Erik Killmonger—concept art tacked to the Marvel office walls revealed a fearsome mask compete with horns and mane.
In other words: even if Marvel and superhero fatigue is setting in, rest assured that Black Panther isn’t going to look like anything you’ve seen from them before.