With over 50 years of acting experience, Dr John Kani has made sure that up until today he is still fresh and relevant. His latest movie The Black Panther is not even out yet, but has already broken pre-booking records.
In the movie, Dr. Kani plays the role of King T’Chaka, the ruler of a fictional world called Wakanda. In the movie John’s son in real life Atandwa Kani is given the role of a younger version of John as Young T’Chaka.
“In the movie I’m the original Black Panther and I’m tasked with nominating my successor (next in-line to rule the kingdom). I reunite with my son after not seeing him after some time. The director and I were challenged with coming up with ideal thing to say to my son, played by my son in real life, Atandwa, in-line with the plot of the film, so it had to be in the native language of ‘Wakanda’. I chose to say something isiXhosa in which the director and everyone on set loved; we need that, the director said,” he says.
“Marvel studios adopted isiXhosa as the official language of “Wakanda.” Even when I filmed Civil War, I was the language expert and my American counterparts would say; give me something with a click, they were referring to isiXhosa. My son and I filmed in Atlanta together, I left and he stayed to continue filming. He took over as the language consultant,” he shares.
Black Panther is not necessarily a movie for everyone, but a movie everyone should watch because never has there been a black comic book hero and a film based on one. “It’s been incredible working on the movie; it’s the first time in Hollywood that there is a black comic hero. The audience in America has a Tarzan perception about Africa, people wearing leather sinks and so on, and this film has broken down that stereotype,” Dr. Kani says.
People forget the fact that most films done are American are done by white directors and every few if not any are done by black directors. So when the time comes where a black director is given the opportunity to take charge of a blockbuster movie, he or she should be celebrated. “Ryan Coogler is the director of the movie, he is an African-American director he has also done the movie Creed starring Sylvester Stallone and Michael B Jordon, but this was his first multi-million dollar project, a big budget film for a black director, something that has never been done before,” he shares.
There is a huge difference between the South African acting industry of today and the one many years ago. Opportunities were very scarce and the profession as a whole was made up of a small community of actors. “Acting was the most difficult profession to break into back in the day. Nobody knew who you were and acting wasn’t recognized as a serious profession, especially for black families,” he says.
“It wasn’t until the 70s that I got my breakthrough after doing a stage plays. That theatre role gave me the power of choice, the motivation for acting thereafter was not for making money, but making an impact,” he explains.
The legendary actor is currently busy with pre-production for the real-life adaptation of the movie The Lion King. He will be lending his voice to the character of “Rafiki” and other notable stars that will be in the film are Beyoncé Knowles, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Alfre Woodard.