How Black Panther used Xhosa and other African languages to perfect its Wakandan dialect

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Black Panther

I have a love for accents, for regional dialects. There’s so much that you can read into them, by listening to how people speak. Italians have a mad lust for life in their language, the gentlemanly twang of an American accent from the south never fails to charm me and there’s an inherent authority in German voices that I just can’t shake.

What about Africa then? Prior to what most of the world believes, Africa isn’t a country but rather a continent of nations who each have their own particular regional speech variants and languages. The difference between a Nigerian and a Cameroonian accent is massive, whereas certain other regional languages contain incredibly specific distinctions that only trained ears can pick up on.

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In Marvel’s Black Panther, it’s that celebration of the continent through the speech mannerisms of its people that makes the film that much more uniquely African. In Captain America: Civil War, the Wakandan royalty that we met spoke in a very distinctive Xhosa accent, thanks to the influence of John Kani and Chadwick Boseman being tutored in the language. Fast forward to Black Panther, and it’s the working relationship between Kani and Boseman that saw Xhosa developed further as a language of Wakanda.

“They’d come in and we’d listen to sound samples that we had for them of people speaking, and I’d give them a playlist and I’d say choose your favorite three,” Black Panther dialect coach Beth McGuire said to Slate.

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I always like to work in threes because it keeps it from being binary, this one or that one. And that meant that they have to really start to create what I would call their own “idiolect.” They’re not imitating somebody but they’re starting to find the sounds and the rhythms in the music that are their own.

Here’s where things get interesting: While Black Panther has a very strong Xhosa influence in its languages, it’s actually more of a Pan-African film that saw numerous actors combine their heritage with the audio demands of the film. “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,” McGuire explained.

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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.

It depends on the country, because if you’re doing Liberian, then American’s gonna help you. If you’re doing Rwanda, neither British or America’s gonna help you because it depends on who colonized the country. But if you’re doing Nigerian, then yes, definitely British is gonna help you. If you’re doing South African, you know, that’s a call, because you had the Dutch. Honestly, it depends on who the damn colonizer was.

Which I think was a brilliant move, and helped sell the idea of Wakanda being an indomitable nation that escaped centuries of Colonialism that ravaged the rest of the continent. The end result? A film that very much serves as the United States of Africa in its attention to accents.

Last Updated: February 23, 2018

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia's M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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