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‘Black Panther’ Actress Danai Gurira is On Her Way to Franchise Domination

The ‘Black Panther’ actress could join ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ and ‘Star Trek 4,’ and those tentpole films will be all the better for it.
Black Panther Danai Gurira
By  · Published on July 13th, 2018

She could join ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ and ‘Star Trek 4,’ and those tentpole films will be all the better for it.

It may already be July, but that doesn’t mean we’re putting a halt to the Black Panther love any time soon. The women of the MCU’s most groundbreaking movie are seemingly having several continuous moments with each new project and accolade, and we’re definitely not complaining.

Lupita Nyong’o is constantly cornering the market of action and drama productions. Letitia Wright is now both a Disney Princess and an Emmy Award nominee. And as for Danai Gurira, she is primed to conquer the world, one gargantuan franchise at a time.

According to Deadline, Gurira is circling two major Hollywood productions at the moment. Firstly, she is negotiating to star in Godzilla vs. Kong, joining Julian Dennison, Millie Bobby Brown, and Kyle Chandler in Universal Pictures’ ever-expanding MonsterVerse. The Deadline report also speculates that Gurira is in early talks for the next, S.J. Clarkson-helmed Star Trek sequel.

Gurira already has ample experience within the realm of fandom properties and continues to mine the IP playing field for exciting and groundbreaking projects. The MonsterVerse and Star Trek franchises are massive, fantastic opportunities. Yes, even for the powerhouse known for portraying the katana-wielding Michonne in The Walking Dead, as well as Okoye, the formidable general of the Dora Milaje in Black Panther.

Directed by Adam Wingard, Godzilla vs. Kong is slated for a 2020 release following next year’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and won’t be an outright remake of the similarly-titled kaiju movie released by Toho in 1962. The synopsis of Godzilla vs. Kong is expectedly kept close to the chest as the film develops, but Wingard has fed us tidbits along the way as the production trucks along.

Despite revealing that the titular creatures in Godzilla vs. Kong will have their fair share of showdowns and that one of them will actually eventually come out on top (in contrast to the ambiguity of the 1962 film), Wingard acknowledges that the movie won’t be devoid of love for its humans. This is a legitimate concern for a kaiju flick in general, wherein audiences could very well watch such films solely for the epic spectacle. Yet, it’s always important to anchor each battle in something more, which can be found in in-depth characterization.

Speaking to Screen Crush, Wingard notes that Godzilla vs. Kong aims to have audiences empathize with both the monsters and humanity in the film:

“I really want you to take those characters seriously. I want you to be emotionally invested, not just in the human characters, but actually in the monsters. If I had my way, I want people to really be teary-eyed at the end of the movie, and be that invested in to what’s going on.”

And this bodes well for Godzilla vs. Kong as both of its predecessors have attempted to do the very same thing. The results have varied, and some characters in Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island have definitely been sidelined. However, every new director joining the MonsterVerse brings with them the potential to improve upon or at least change something that didn’t work in previous movies.

The polarity between Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island is stark. The former is languidly paced and striking if solemn, while the latter is ostentatious and almost comic-booky in tone and color palette. Meanwhile, it’s a relief to note that as the best of Wingard’s filmography — namely You’re Next and The Guest — demonstrates, he has the ability to seamlessly incorporate all those characteristics into his own stories.

Wingard’s films have toyed with eye-catching and vibrant imagery in the past, from animal masks to strobe lighting. You’re Next and The Guest also happen to feature smart characters that you end up rooting for. Hopefully, this balance could actually ensure that an actress of Gurira’s caliber will get the best of both worlds in Godzilla vs. Kong as the franchise continues to find its legs. Godzilla vs. Kong might allow the MonsterVerse to fully hit its stride.

In the case of Clarkson’s Star Trek installment, Gurira’s potential casting certainly breathes further life into a long-gestating project. The announcement of Clarkson’s involvement as director already made considerable waves a few months ago, but Star Trek 4 generally needs to pick up steam anyway. The film’s main narrative hook – the reappearance of Chris Hemsworth’s George Kirk in a key role – was revealed two years ago. The absence of more concrete plot details since, as well as the inherent sketchiness of the movie’s adamant time-travel plot point, leaves plenty to be desired.

I love seeing Hemsworth’s likable mug in every franchise there is, and the theme of family is very important to the rebooted Trek. However, that definitely doesn’t mean that the freshness of new adventures counts for nothing. Star Trek Beyond was such a delight due to its themes of exploration and discovery. It was a welcome change from the Abrams-helmed movies and their melodrama. In chasing reinvention, the addition of the film franchise’s first female director definitely works in Star Trek 4’s favor. Add one of the film industry’s most charismatic actresses to the cast and it’s a bigger win.

Gurira has always brought an intriguing combination of power, authority, and vulnerability to her characters. This occurs whether or not she dons the warrior uniform of a fictional tactical team or plays real-life fighters (such as political activist Afeni Shakur in the Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me). Gurira is undoubtedly most well-known for being an atypical badass.

For my money, The Walking Dead is an exhausting show that banks on torturing its audience with each new episode, but Gurira was one of the only actors that has kept me watching. Michonne’s ruthlessness isn’t without a dash of optimism — as much as the zombie apocalypse can allow her to muster anyway. Michonne was always a stronger character on screen as a result of Gurira’s presence. The actress delivers weighted, multifaceted performances regardless of whether she’s amputating something with her trusty katana or developing a relationship with the show’s protagonist, Rick Grimes.

In Black Panther, power makes Gurira’s Okoye formidable, but she is so much more than a strict exterior too. The character is cheeky, loving, authoritative, and steadfast depending on the mood, audience, and setting. In a film that cannot possibly incorporate the perspectives of every single member of the Dora Milaje, Gurira is the best spokesperson for the special forces team for embodying all those aspects. She may not have been the outright protagonist of Black Panther, but nevertheless, there’s no denying that even in the shortest of scenes, Gurira sneaks in naturalistic and playful inflections into the character, quirks that make Okoye feel real and more well-rounded than many other supporting characters in blockbusters.

Gurira’s simultaneous sensitivity and toughness would be boundless assets for Godzilla vs. Kong and Star Trek 4, and this is precisely why she deserves to rule franchises for years to come.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)