One of the many standout aspects of Marvel’s Black Panther blockbuster was the use of various African accents, although some may have wondered why they were different amongst the actors in the film. The dialect coach for Black Panther, Yale Professor Beth McGuire, sat down with Slate to explain the reasoning behind it in a fascinating look into the fictional realm of Wakanda.
Professor McGuire began the chat by sharing that Chadwick Boseman, who stars in the titular role, framed his accent after John Kani, who plays the part of T’Challa’s father, King T’Chaka. Kani, who is South African, is a native speaker of Xhosa, so the decision to have Boseman emulate that accent made natural sense to the cast and crew. However, there were some who thought that the accents were too scattered and perhaps inauthentic to African ears, but McGuire explains there’s a reason for that.
So the few times when we see characters speaking and there are subtitles, that’s Xhosa we’re hearing?
Yes, so that was a mishmash. Like for instance, a number of the actors had private Xhosa people that they knew, so we’d get in touch with them and I’d listen to the recording and make sure that [the actors] were saying it correctly. And then of course, if something was off, we had the advantage of [automated dialogue replacement], to be able to doctor it after the fact.
And the work was so fast and furious that it was very challenging to keep track of. You know, there was a lot of improvisation going on. But I can’t even tell you how proud I am of those actors. They were just extraordinary. They worked their fannies off, they really did.
I was just reviewing this morning where all these actors are from. What was really interesting is, you’ll hear that they all sound like the same world and they’re all speaking with a Xhosa accent, but they’re slightly idiolectical. Daniel Kaluuya’s accent is a little different than Letitia Wright’s accent, even though they’re both Brits, because Daniel’s parents are from Uganda, whereas Letitia was born in Guyana.
So you know, you have South America and Africa, and yet they’re both black Brits. There’s all sorts of interesting overlapping and you’d have somebody like Chadwick, who is a very trained actor but who’s from South Carolina, and Angela Bassett, who’s also a very trained actress, who is from, she’s like New York and Florida and, I think, North Carolina as well. You know, you have all of these original primary accents folding into another accent, so you get what I thought was a really great sort of natural distinction that had to do with all of the mix of tribes that are in Wakanda. Although we were really gathering and using Xhosa as our hub, this sort of just naturally happened and I thought it was kinda cool.
Read Black Panther dialect coach and Yale School of Drama professor Beth McGuire’s full interview here.