Black Panther’s Florence Kasumba in conversation with FAULT Magazine

Florence Kasumba x FAULT Magazine

German film premiere of MARVEL’s BLACK PANTHER - WAKANDA FOREVER in Berlin UCI Luxe, 2022/11/07 Florence Kasumba Photo: Disney/Hanna Boussouar

Words: Miles Holder

Its been over seven years since Florence Kasumba first appeared as Ayo in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and while much has changed since making her Marvel debut, Florence’s presence as an actor, performer and dedicated character developer continues to be a mainstay. 

While Ayo goes unnamed in her first appearance, it’s no doubt Kasumba’s strong performance catapulted the character into a more prominent role not only in the Black Panther but throughout the MCU.

With the release of Wakanda Forever, we caught up with Florence to discuss her acting journey and as always, her FAULTS.

Have you had time to sit back and reflect on the impact of the previous Black Panther movies?

Florence Kasumba: I went from filming Black Panther directly into a different project so it has been a very delayed response but now that I’ve had time to watch the movie and continue to discuss different aspects of the project, I’m slowly beginning to reflect upon the experience.

Is it easy for you to snap out of the character you’ve been portraying at the end of every project or do they sometimes linger? 

Florence Kasumba: When I walk off set, Ayo is on a break. I’ve played the character since 2015 so every time I return to play her, it all just snaps back as we start training. There’s so much muscle memory that I don’t have to think about every aspect of the character, especially when working with Lupita (Nyong’o) and my other colleagues, we all snap back together and as a family.

During that first appearance, did you have any idea that the role would spin out to be as prominent as it became? 

Florence Kasumba: In life, I have no expectations, and that goes for these high-impact movies too. I wasn’t aware of the hype at first because I didn’t watch action movies. After filming Captain America: Civil War I went on vacation and my mind went elsewhere. It wasn’t until I heard the public reaction that I finally watched the movie and understood the draw of the MCU. After Captain America: Civil War I went back and watched every movie in order and while I know I’m a part of the MCU, I’m so aware of all the other productions and moving parts happening, I mentally lean back from it.

Tell us about some of the most memorable scenes.  

 Florence Kasumba: I was most afraid of the scene where we all wear white because that’s where reality met fiction. It was heavy and it hurt because it was easy to understand the scene – we didn’t need to pretend. It was something that needed to be done for us all to feel closure both for us and all the characters. 

I think the greatest days are when we’re all together, especially with Michaela Coel because she’s so funny. 

What’s one question people always wonder about the movie? 

Florence Kasumba: I’ve been playing the character so long that I’m often asked “how do we carry on from here?” But there’s no way for me to answer that question because I can never predict how Ryan (Cooglar) would have crafted the story. 

Is there a message from the movie that you’re hoping won’t get lost ?

Florence Kasumba: I hope people will leave the movie and be open for change and being one with “the other” because once we stop seeing “the other” as such, we realise how we all want the same thing; from living in peace to wanting happiness. It’s not a film where people can expect to hate the enemy and that’s the beauty of it – you always understand where they are coming from.

Can it be overwhelming to make sure the character you’re playing this meeting the expectations of the audience? 

Florence Kasumba: I can’t go into production hoping to meet the exceptions of the audience because that would be a huge distraction from my job as an actor. I need to be authentic to the character. Give me my setting and give me my lines and I can tell you if I can be authentic to the script. The script can change on set and you need to be open. There’s so much to Ayo that makes sense to me and reflects my life so I never become overwhelmed by the role. 

I don’t need to look up how to play an African, or a warrior free from slavery or simply how to play a woman who can make her own decisions. While I don’t walk through life as a soldier I understand walking through life as someone who knows what it’s like to work for what you want.

Is there added pressure when working on a movie with such high cultural weight? 

Florence Kasumba: I take this role so seriously because I don’t feel that the way Africans have been portrayed has been authentic. I use this opportunity to do my best and give it to the characters. I don’t feel pressure but I feel dedication, especially after the impact of the first movie. 

German film premiere of MARVEL’s BLACK PANTHER - WAKANDA FOREVER in Berlin UCI Luxe, 2022/11/07 Dominik Poschen, Florence Kasumba, Jenny Augusta, Roger Crotti Photo: Disney/Hanna Boussouar

That’s still a great amount of responsibility, does the weight of representation ever leave you fatigued?

Florence Kasumba: I don’t feel pressure because I’m a human first, not an actress. I can choose how I live my life. I have the advantage of reading a script that I can interpret in a way that makes sense. If Ayo was a role which involved only reading a script then maybe it would be harder, but as she’s someone who I need to holistically follow and think about – I think the pressure is more on the director than myself. 

Your portfolio is so diverse – is there something special about Ayo that makes you pour so much of yourself into the character? 

Florence Kasumba: It’s how I’m conditioned as a musical performer and a mix of my personality. A lot of the people I’ve worked with wanted a lot from me and I never had a feeling it was too much. After Chadwick passed, the level of feeling that he brought to the production helped me push even further. 

What is your FAULT?

Florence Kasumba: I have the worst patience. It’s not that I want everything at once, it’s the understanding that some things need time and having conversations and practice but you need patience for all those things.