“I’d like you to meet with them,” said the text message. I looked at the people described as ‘them’ twice. Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira. Citizens of the world. Africa’s finest in Hollywood. HOLLYWOOD. 12 Years a Slave. Black Panther. It just didn’t seem real!
I didn’t know what to say. The text came at 6.21pm on that fateful day. But I replied at 7.40pm. And all I could say was “Nne, ibiakwa!”
It took me a long time to process what I had just read; to remember that the text had actually come from someone who was listed among Time Magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People,” in the world in 2015 and among the “Top Global Thinkers of 2013” by the Foreign Policy magazine. Someone who has been pronounced a ‘genius’ by the MacArthur Foundation. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And yes; she got the whole world talking the other day when she sat down to a small talk with Hillary Clinton.
So, I believed her. And I waited for the day.
I meet Lupita (Kenyan) and Danai (Zimbabwean) in, guess where; Nsukka. Now, what a place to meet these two! And as I drove down the tree-lined Close to my friend Chioma Okolie’s home in the University of Nigeria, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen the Black Panther twice. Lupita and Danai had sizzled in this phenomenal film and left movie audiences gawking in wonder across the world. So, would they look like they did in the movie or just as human as me? I found out minutes later. They looked just like me. Just like us. Ordinary. They are us. Remember? Us in Hollywood!
I remember introducing myself to Chioma’s mum and hearing her say, ‘are you not the young man that I once prayed for?’ I remember asking Lupita and Danai about our African-American cousins with whom they had dazzled the world in Black Panther; King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). I remember telling Danai that I owed them ‘a debt of gratitude’ for what they did for black people; for helping us break the silence across the Atlantic. I remember saying so many things. Don’t blame me. I may never get another chance.
And finally, when we sat down to have a conversation in that quite little place known as the Energy Research Centre, I felt so much at ease that at some point, I didn’t quite feel as though I was sitting directly opposite Lupita Amondi Nyong’o; Africa’s most famous actress, winner of the Academy Award and a Tony and Golden Globe Awards nominee among many other laurels. Lupita’s net worth is estimated at over $200m. And her season hasn’t even started.
And then of course, Danai Jekesai Gurira. Now, Danai is special to me. She is ‘onye nkem.’ She played Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur in the 2017 Biopic; ‘All Eyes on me.’ Shakur is my favourite rapper of all time. Danai is the writer of a Tony Award-winning play, ‘Eclipsed,’ which is also the first play to premier on Broadway with an all-female and black cast and crew. Until Black Panther, she was best known for her role in the TV drama series, ‘The Walking Dead.’
But I also fiercely love Danai for that massive talk she gave at the Black Women in Hollywood Awards night organized by the Essence Magazine, and yes, I got the chance to thank her for that. Now, if you haven’t watched that speech, well…
I also thanked Danai for her role as ‘Okoye,’ the respected General in Wakandaland but perhaps more importantly, I thanked both women for bursting the stereotypes that had held black people down in Hollywood for so long.
And now, I will have to thank Chimamanda for bringing me up close to these legends.
But why did Lupita and Danai come to Nsukka?
Blink if you wish!