"I loved how subversive [that moment] was," Danai Gurira tells PEOPLE of her memorable Black Panther fight scene
As Black Panther continues to rack up critical and audience acclaim as well as break box office records, fans have expressed particular enthusiasm for an action sequence involving star Danai Gurira using a wig as a weapon.
The actress, 40, who already has millions of fans from her portrayal of sword-wielding Michonne on The Walking Dead, tells PEOPLE that she’s been pleasantly surprised by the reaction to the scene, but can only take partial credit for it.
“I would love to claim it, but I will hand that over to the great Ryan Coogler,” Gurira says of her Black Panther writer/director. “I loved it from the minute I read it though.”
In the scene, Gurira’s elite warrior character Okoye is forced to wear a wig as a disguise, which she finds offensive, and later hurls the wig at an assailant to thwart his attack. Okoye is the general of the Dora Milaje, the group of all-female personal bodyguards for the King of Wakanda/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who traditionally and proudly shave their heads as part of their service.
“I loved how subversive [that moment] was, and how it’s [playing with] conventional norms around feminine beauty,” Gurira continues. “[Okoye] is just being who she is. You know, being proud of her bald head and her tats. And how her femininity — all of the women [in the film] — their femininity coincides so seamlessly with their ferocity. And how those two things do not have to compromise themselves for the other thing. I thought that one moment kind of encapsulated all of that. The positive response it’s gotten, I didn’t think through to that.”
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The Iowa-born actress, who spent many of her formative years in her parents’ home country of Zimbabwe, did her own stunts in the scene and also has high praise for costume designer Ruth Carter who created the “normal dress” she wears during that fight sequence.
“That was just a normal dress. It was beautifully constructed,” says Gurira. “From the second I was aware of this scene. Ryan was like, ‘You’re in a red dress,’ and then Ruth Carter brilliantly constructed it. It was a very flowy dress, I rehearsed with it on. There was no gimmick inside it. It was just a dress. And it flowed with the scene, once again, not compromising ferocity for femininity.”
Black Panther is now playing in theaters.