Lupita Nyong'o: We need to once again recognise the power of female presence and the power of female potential
Black Panther is Marvel's first black hero to get his own standalone film. Stars Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira and Michael B Jordan tell Laura Harding why it's about time
Lupita Nyong'o's karaoke song of choice is You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette. She's feeling under the weather when we meet in London and it turns out it's the result of belting out this mid-90s break-up song on a trip to South Korea.
She doesn't want to shake hands and spread her lurgy, so instead she crosses her arms over her chest in greeting, imitating Nakia, her character in the new Marvel superhero film Black Panther.
Lupita's trip to the karaoke bars of Asia was part of the global press tour to promote the movie, which broke box office records before it was even released.
While it may feel like there are more superheroes than we can keep track of these days, this one is different - a black king, played by Chadwick Boseman, ruling over the fictional African nation of Wakanda and surrounded by female warriors.
"The very fact that this script features more than one woman and more than one female perspective is a powerful statement," Nyong'o says. "All of us are unique in the movie and we are each individually powerful, then we come together and it's such an exquisite image to have, especially for young kids, especially young girls.
"Power doesn't look the same on everyone and you can see that.
"You can identify with any one of the women, and we see how these powerful women support the titular character, the Black Panther, without him having to diminish his power at any point, and that is such an idyllic image for us to aspire to as a world."
One of those women is Okoye, the head of the king's all-female special forces unit, the Dora Milaje, played by The Walking Dead star Danai Gurira.
This projection of female strength, which is never questioned or diminished, feels particularly pressing in the current climate as discussion about gender equality dominates awards ceremonies and women speak out about their own experiences of harassment and abuse.
It's a fact not lost on both women.
"There are so many things in this movie that are timely and pertinent that you wouldn't even expect," Gurira says.
"People were like, 'When did you guys film this because this is happening right now and you guys address it?', and that is definitely one of them.
"I think the idea that femininity and fierceness and authority can all exist, and very beautifully so, is something I guess we still need to learn.
"It is very timely because we need to once again recognise the power of female presence and the power of female potential and how if women are allowed to reach their potential they can actually really make a nation the most advanced one on the planet. Come to Wakanda and learn the way!"
Nyong'o nods in agreement. "The truth is, the time for that kind of conversation is always - we haven't finished," she says.
"We have trends of conversations - there is an ebb and a flow - but the struggle for equality, the struggle for women to have an equal say in determining the future of a nation, has been a long time coming.
"It's wonderful to have this film in this moment, but it is really reflective of every moment."
The duo are seated side-by-side, Nyong'o dressed in leather with a black beret on her head, while Gurira is sporting an asymmetric dress with lions printed across the front, as they reflect on how much of the strength of the women they play stems from their collaboration with the film's director, Ryan Coogler. "We collaborated deeply with Ryan," Gurira stresses.
"So you feel an ownership of what came out, and I think that is really important to remember - as artists, we can collaborate and we can be a part of the product's formation.
"That is something we were allowed on this movie and I think it's something artists should feel they are allowed to be a part of, and especially women artists.
"As women, we feel an ownership of this movie."
Another component that felt important to them both was the celebration of African culture, from the language to the costumes.
"That was really special to me," Gurira adds.
"I think being able to learn and speak isiXhosa ... it was really celebrating an African tongue which you never get to see.
"People read subtitles for every other thing, but you never see the African language given this sort of platform.
"And in the costuming there is that expression of beautiful African specificity through all those different cultures that are represented in our costumes. That was very awesome."
That representation also matters deeply to Michael B Jordan, the Creed star who plays Black Panther's rival Erik Killmonger.
"The inspiration to little kids, little boys and girls that are going to be watching this, I think is extremely important to me," he says.
"It's a lot. And we don't know what this film is exactly going to do. People haven't really seen it yet.
"So I think just the potential is extremely powerful.
"All kids going to see this film and feeling some sense of pride of who they are and where they come from and their heritage and culture, I think that is extremely important.
"Identity is extremely important. I feel like I can see every kid going to see this thing and feeling empowered in some type of way.
"I hope this film starts so many conversations about understanding differences, coming from different places, understanding one another."
Black Panther is at cinemas now