Let’s be real here. Marvel’s translating on some problematic aspects of comic book history to the big screen has been hit or miss over the years.
The two more recent examples are Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange and a lot of what went down in Iron Fist. Inherently, both of those characters have their own issues in just paper comics. The Ancient One, when first introduced, was a horrifically racist caricature by today’s standards. While Kung-Fu movies were big when Iron Fist was created, I guess Asian superheroes weren’t.
Another one of these characters with a problematic history in comics is M’Baku also known as Man-Ape. In his debut in 1969, he dons white fan of an ape and attacks Black Panther because he disagrees with how the country of Wakanda should be run. The name should be pretty self-explanatory.
With Marvel’s recent misses, however, the studios and those working on the movie have updated the character for a modern audience while trying to remove the more problematic aspects.
Talking with Entertainment Weekly, producer Nate Moore talked about M’Baku (Winston Duke) and how these updates occurred.
First off, they call him M’Baku and never Man-Ape.
Secondly, they tackled the problem head-on.
“Having a black character dress up as an ape, I think there’s a lot of racial implications that don’t sit well, if done wrong. But the idea that they worship the gorilla gods is interesting because it’s a movie about the Black Panther who, himself, is a sort of deity in his own right.”
Instead, Duke’s costume has hints of fur and a chest plate that pays tribute without have him literally dressed as an ape.
Thirdly, they looked to recent comic runs (specifically that of Christopher Priest) for M’Baku’s motivations.
“You learn that M’Baku is essentially the head of the religious minority in Wakanda and we thought that was interesting. Wakanda is not a monolithic place. They have a lot of different factions.” Moore said.
While M’Baku’s storyline within the film is being held under Marvel’s traditional secrecy, it is safe to say that he and his tribe are not thrilled with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Granted, according to Moore, they weren’t too thrilled with T’Chaka (John Kani) either. M’Baku supports more of an isolationist stance for the country and will make himself King to see it happen.
“In M’Baku’s worldview, T’Chaka made a huge mistake going to the U.N. We should never engage with the outside world. That’s a terrible mistake. And if his son is anything like his father, I don’t support him being on the throne.’”
Moore hopes that they successfully walked the line between M’Baku’s problematic history and the “fascinating” idea behind the character in the film. Director Ryan Coogler is quick to point out that while an antagonistic foil to T’Challa, M’Baku is not entirely a bad guy.
“The film very much plays with those concepts, looking at conflicts and different motivations, and who’s with who. M’Baku is a really interesting character, and I’m excited for people to get to see him.”
Black Panther hits theatres in February 2018.
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