One of the more complicated and interesting questions on everyone’s mind immediately after the very first Black Panther trailer dropped focused on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Wakandan accent—specifically about why various character’s accents seemed to be so different from one another. We now have an answer.
When we first met T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and T’Chaka (John Kani) in Captain America: Civil War, it was clear that Boseman made the decision to base the cadence of his Wakandan accent on Kani’s Xhosa accent. That’s still very much the case in Black Panther, but according to the film’s dialect coach Beth McGuire, realising a fully-fleshed out and three dimensional Wakanda organically led to a broadening of what Wakanda’s accents sound like.
Speaking to Slate, McGuire explained how she worked with the film’s lead actors to help them develop a personal relationship with Xhosa so that they could deliver their lines (which are subtitled in the film) in a way that was both authentic and unique to each performer:
“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 favourite three. 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.”
When asked about some of the concerns that have been voiced about whether Black Panther might have been culturally appropriative in its use of actual African traditions in its creation of Wakanda, McGuire made the very salient point about both the film’s pan-African cast and just what Wakanda’s supposed to be:
“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.
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 colonised 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 coloniser was.”
In both Marvel’s comics and movies, a significant part of the lore about Wakanda focuses on the fact that the country was never colonised—something that might make one assume there would be a singular Wakandan accent. But because the MCU’s depiction of Wakanda is so deeply rooted in much of the iconography and traditions of real-world African cultures, it makes sense that there would be a multiplicity of accents.
What’s more, Black Panther actually goes out of its way to emphasise the fact that modern-day Wakanda began as a coalition of multiple tribes who seized the opportunity to unite and grow together around the impact site of the vibranium mound. Respect for tradition and history is a central element to the MCU’s Wakandan society, and it stands to reason that the different accents unique to each tribe would still very much be a part of modern Wakanda.