Queer representation in film and the possibility of moviegoers in Africa seeing LGBTQ issues onscreen, motivated one Disney star to accept her latest role.
British actress Michaela Coel, who is of Ghanaian descent, told Vogue that she hopes the anti-gay country of Ghana will see “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and witness a love story between two powerful women.
In “Black Panther 2,” planned for release on November 11, Coel’s character, captain and combat instructor Aneka, falls in love with her warrior colleague Ayo, played by Florence Kasumba, and their forbidden affair causes disruption in the Wakandan ranks.
“That sold me on the role, the fact that my character’s queer,” Coel said. “I thought: I like that, I want to show that to Ghana.”
Like many countries in Africa, Ghana’s antigay laws date back to colonialism but anti-LGBTQ legislation is still being introduced today. A bill before the Ghana parliament could sentence those identifying as gay, or even an ally, to second-degree felonies, punishable by up to five years in prison.
“People say, ‘Oh, it’s fine, it’s just politics.’ But I don’t think it is just politics when it affects how people get to live their daily lives,” the “Chewing Gum” sitcom creator said. “That’s why it felt important for me to step in and do that role because I know just by my being Ghanaian, Ghanaians will come.”
“Black Panther 2” began production in 2019 but was paused in 2020 after the death of leading man Chadwick Boseman to colon cancer. Marvel opted not to recast Boseman’s beloved character T’Challa, instead, writers reworked the script, creating a new Wakanda in T’Challa’s honor.
When filming began in 2021, “it felt like the entire cast was processing grief,” Coel said. “There was a sense that we have to bring this baby home in the name of Chadwick. I thought to myself, I’m rolling up my sleeves and I’m getting in. I don’t need to be front and center, I’m here to support.”
Coel’s character depiction has caused policy change in the past, and she is hoping “Wakanda Forever” could motivate change, as well.
“Written by and starring Coel, “I May Destroy You,” is, as Vogue described, “the earth-shattering BAFTA- and Emmy Award–winning drama based on her experience of sexual assault.” The series explored consent and the repercussions of “stealthing,” or the act of secretly removing a condom during intercourse.
“The real-life events that I May Destroy You is based on took place when [Coel] was working on season two of Chewing Gum. While up late writing at the office, she headed out to meet a friend at a bar. Sometime that night, her drink was spiked, she says, and she was sexually assaulted,” Vogue reported.
Maite Orsini, a congresswoman from Santiago, Chile, was so moved by one episode that she lobbied to make “stealthing” a criminal offense and it passed.
While social justice and policy change are more than Coel hoped for from sharing her experience, confronting the emotional trauma head-on has also allowed her to heal, she said.
“I don’t think I really understood how much making a show would make this thing lose its power,” she said. “Now it’s just a scar like these ones,” she added, pointing to her knees.
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