Black Panther foe M’Baku has a long comic book history, stretching back to 1969’s Avengers #62, in which he was introduced as Man-Ape. However, for his big-screen debut in 2018’s Black Panther, the filmmakers decided he character needed to undergo an update.
Along with the furry full-body suit of the rare Wakandan gorilla, Marvel Studios jettisoned the name “Man-Ape.” In Black Panther, actor Winston Duke’s character will be simply M’Baku, the ruler of Wakanda’s mountain tribe.
“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,” executive producer Nate Moore told Entertainment Weekly. “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.”
The article notes, however, that M’Baku is “still adorned with elements of fur on his arms and legs and sports a chest-plate that hints at the animal that is symbolic of his tribe,” but that he will not be wearing a mask emblematic of the White Gorilla cult that he leads.
In the film, M’Baku opposes T’Challa’s rule the same as he opposed the reign of his father, T’Chaka, before his assassination in Captain America: Civil War. “Man-Ape is a problematic character for a lot of reasons,” Moore explained, “but the idea behind Man-Ape we thought was really fascinating. … It’s a line I think we’re walking, and hopefully walking successfully.”
This contrast of political, religious, and cultural beliefs was central to director Ryan Coogler’s vision.
“When you go to countries in Africa, you’ll find several tribes, who speak their own languages, have their own culture, and have distinct food and way of dress. They live amongst each other, and together they make the identity of those countries,” he said. “That’s something we tried to capture. We wanted it to feel like a country, as opposed to just one city or town.”
Opening on Feb. 16, 2018, Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, with Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Sterling K. Brown and John Kani.
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