Today is the ten-year anniversary of the film Mother of George, making it the perfect day to celebrate the fabulous woman who brought the film to life, Danai Gurira!
Danai Gurira is a Zimbabwean-American actress, known for her roles in popular television series and films such as The Walking Dead and Black Panther. However, she is also an esteemed playwright and philanthropist.
At the beginning of her career, Danai taught acting and playwriting in Liberia, Zimbabwe. After arriving in the US in the early 2000s, her acting career quickly began to grow, as she appeared in the films Ghost Town (2008), 3 Backyards (2010), My Soul to Take (2010), and Restless City (2010) and in the hit television series Law & Order and Treme. She also became involved in theater at this time, though as an actress, making her Broadway debut as Martha Pentecost in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone in 2009. From 2012-2019, she played the strong and relentless Michonne in The Walking Dead.
Danai’s performance in Mother of George (2013), however, was a breakthrough moment for her. FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner described her as “luminous in the central role.” In the film, Danai plays Adenike Balogun, a newlywed Nigerian woman living in Brooklyn, New York. Adenike’s journey serves as the focal point of the film, as it explores the complexities of her life within the context of Nigerian culture. Her performance helped anchor the film and added depth to the exploration of cultural expectations, identity, and immigrant experiences.
Danai went on to stun audiences as General Okoye in Black Panther. As Okoye, Danai was praised not only for her physicality and combat skills but also for the depth and authenticity she brought to the character. Okoye became an iconic figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, largely due to Danai’s fantastic performance.
Though she is an undeniably talented actress, Danai’s excellent plays cannot be ignored.
Many of Danai’s plays incorporate pieces of her identity as a Zimbabwean woman. The Convert, for example, follows Jekesai, a young Shona girl living in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), who converts to Christianity and adopts a new identity as a means of survival as the country is colonized by the British.
Familiar, which opened off-Broadway in 2016, takes a contemporary look at issues of cultural identity and generational conflict within a Zimbabwean-American family. Danai has said that it was inspired in part by her own friends and family. The play revolves around the preparations for a traditional Zimbabwean wedding, highlighting the clash between the younger generation’s American influences and the older generation’s traditional values.
In 2009, Danai wrote Eclipsed, which is perhaps the most well-known and critically acclaimed of her plays. Set during the Liberian Civil War, Eclipsed revolves around the lives of five women who are living as the “wives” of a rebel commanding officer. It sheds light on the struggles and experiences of women during times of conflict and their quest for identity and autonomy.
Eclipse was performed on Broadway in 2015, starring Danai’s Black Panther co-star Lupita Nyong’o. The show made history by featuring an all-female, all-Black cast and creative team. Eclipsed was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Play.
Along with her acting and playwriting, Danai has also done excellent work in philanthropy. She is the founder of Love Our Girls, an awareness-based foundation focusing on aiding the struggles of women and girls across the globe. She is also the Co-Founder and Executive Arts Director of the Almasi Arts Alliance, which seeks to give opportunities to African dramatic artists, and a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.
Danai Gurira is a powerhouse talent whose work in both acting and playwriting has left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry. Her stunning performances and thought-provoking plays have not only entertained but also enlightened audiences about complex societal issues. With her unwavering commitment to storytelling and social justice, Danai’s influence is sure to continue growing, inspiring generations of artists and activists to come.
© Julia Lasker (9/13/23) FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Learn more about Love Our Girls here.
Learn more about the Almasi Arts Alliance here.
Watch Mother of George here.
Watch Ghost Town here.
Watch 3 Backyards here.
Watch Restless City here.
Watch Black Panther here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS