You’ve been fascinated by Erik Killmonger. You’ve cheered for Shuri. But don’t other inhabitants of Wakanda deserve their chance to shine? Black Panther has some of the best world-building of the recent superhero boom, with a host of stunningly conceived minor characters you suspect could carry an entire film on their own. But which one of them is the best? That’s what we’re here to argue about today.
13. W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya)
I have some sympathy for W’Kabi: The poor guy lost both his parents at a young age, and he’s clearly still working through that childhood trauma. But he sure was quick to turn on T’Challa, his only human friend, once Killmonger came a-knocking. And don’t give me that “he was siding with the legal king” stuff — Okoye and the Dora considered their duty to Killmonger nullified once T’Challa showed up alive, and W’Kabi easily could have done the same. Instead, he called in the rhinos on his long-distance girlfriend! What a schmuck.
12. Limbani (David S. Lee)
You know how stacked the cast of Black Panther is? Even the generic henchman who dies a fairly unmemorable death is played by one of South Africa’s finest actors. At least he has a cool name. (It means “to be strong” in Chewa.)
11. Linda (Nabiyah Be)
Be’s character was maybe supposed to be Tilda Johnson, a.k.a. Nightshade, but in one of those weird Marvel things, Luke Cage called dibs on Johnson first. So instead Be played “Linda” — a loyal partner, a talented barista, and, ultimately, a tragic stand-in for the legions of revolutionary women who have been betrayed by the men in their ranks. Sorry, Linda.
10. Border Tribe Elder (Danny Sapani)
My one world-building gripe with Black Panther is that the tribes of Wakanda really could stand to have cooler names. Border Tribe? Merchant Tribe? That’s first-draft stuff. Anyway, the elder of the “Border Tribe” is played by Danny Sapani, a respected British actor who’s probably most famous, to me anyway, as the probation officer who went crazy in the first episode of Misfits. But since we’ve already got a more important character from the Border Tribe in W’Kabi, this guy mostly sits in the background. But I’m sure he’s doing a great job behind the scenes.
9. T’Chaka (John Kani)
Remember that nice old man from Captain America: Civil War? Well, it turns out he killed his own brother and abandoned his orphaned nephew. I haven’t been this shocked by the decades-old actions of a feline monarch since I read Matthew Broderick’s Wikipedia page.
8. Zuri (Forest Whitaker)
The movie turned Zuri from a badass warrior into a master of ceremonies for Wakanda’s hottest waterfall duels. Credit to Ryan Coogler for resisting the temptation to digitally de-age Forest Whitaker in the flashbacks, even though the guy they cast does not look very much like actual early ’90s Forest Whitaker.
7. N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown)
Original-recipe Killmonger — 90 percent as problematic, 90 percent as hot. (Don’t come for me, This Is Us fans.)
6. Merchant Tribe Elder (Dorothy Steel)
Bless Dorothy Steele, who appears to have come to acting late in life; Black Panther is only her fifth screen credit. She plays the sweet old lady on T’Challa’s council, a character I am incredibly curious about. Is she new to politics, or is she a savvy insider? Has Wakanda always had progressive gender relations, or did she have to fight to get where she is? I’m just saying, I wouldn’t be opposed to a 9 to 5–style spinoff about Merchant Tribe Elder’s struggle to get to the top. Make it happen, Marvel.
5. Mining Tribe Elder (Connie Chiume)
Connie Chiume is a South African soap star who also doesn’t get a whole lot to do, but at least she gets to spend her scenes rocking some amazing Himba-style locks.
4. Ramonda (Angela Bassett)
There are a lot of daggers in Black Panther, but none are sharper than the look Ramonda gave Killmonger after “Hey auntie.”
3. Ayo (Florence Kasumba)
An early version of Black Panther reportedly included an exclusively gay moment between Ayo and Okoye — seemingly a nod to Roxane Gay’s World of Wakanda — but the finished version scrapped that and put Okoye in a relationship with whiny-ass W’Kabi instead. This is obviously wrong. Who would you rather date: a disloyal rhino-herder, or a woman who was hilariously rude to Scarlett Johansson?
2. River Tribe Elder (Isaach De Bankolé)
I feel bad for any main characters who have to stand in the foreground while this guy’s in the background: He pulls focus better than the Chronicles of Riddick poster in Fifty Shades. It’s not just the lip plate, though that is certainly a bold look — it’s that he takes care to match the plate to his amazing neon suit, while serving up a high-fashion glare straight out of Numéro Homme.
1. M’Baku (Winston Duke)
Was there ever any question? Winston Duke has got Black Panther fans in a tizzy, and he’s only in three scenes! Fortunately, this chiseled man-mountain makes the most of his every second of screen time: saving our hero’s life on multiple occasions, pioneering new methods of interpersonal communication, and generally stunning everyone with his effortless charisma and overwhelming masculinity. The only thing is, I don’t quite buy that a dude this swole is a vegetarian. Guy must be swilling down a gallon of whey protein a day.
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