Caribbean Currents: Trini becomes king of the cinema in ‘Black Panther’

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A report from the Philadelphia Tribune.

Why are we not surprised that there is yet another son of the Caribbean who did not allow his humble beginnings to stand in his way? This statement describes the positive thinking of none other than Winston Duken, a proud son of the island of Trinidad and Tobago.

This young man was born in Argyle, Tobago, and we can all relate to the fact that he immigrated to New York with his mother, Cora Pantin. Duke entered the United States at the tender age of 9 and probably like most children, the people who he grew up with would not have thought that by the age of 31, he would land a starring role in what is now being referred to as the greatest movie of all times “Black Panther.”

Winston Duke played M’Baku, a leader of the Jabari tribe, in the movie. This performance has since earned him a following of millions of fans, multiple television appearances and hundreds of newspaper and magazine reviews.

Joshua Rivera of GQ magazine interviewed Duke. In his online report, Duke affirmed the fact that his performance as M’Baku was so powerful that he stole the show. In this same interview, Duke also shared with Rivera the fact that his mother was a single parent. “I didn’t have a father in my home,” he said.

He further said that watching himself on the big screen and listened to himself repeating the lines “Stand up, you are a king,” he was moved to tears by the words.

When we asked one of our Trinidadian friend how she felt about a fellow Trini being in the movie, she said that she automatically assumed that he was African.

“Oh, really he is from Tobago? I had no idea,” she said. “Well now that you brought it to my attention, I can tell you that I am proud to know that he has found success. It was impressive to see a movie featuring almost a 100 percent Black cast that’s first and foremost.

“Second, the characters they played showed a race of people that were innovative and technologically advanced. Third, the character that Winston Duke played underwent the greatest change in my opinion. His character, M’Baku, the leader of the Jabari tribe, started out very arrogant and pompous but by the end of the movie, he had transformed and become compassionate and surprisingly, he was the one who saved the life of our hero so that he could triumph in the end,” she added.

Duke’s climb to stardom began back in Tobago in a small, quiet community; very similar to the way many of us — Caribbean people — grew up back in our home country. He described how the village of Argyle shaped his character and even his love for soca music.

In a “Discover Trinidad and Tobago” online article, Duke recalls how his family was very close — always cooking and laughing together. They supported one another. He has childhood memories of freshly baked sweet breads delivered by a cousin who transported the goods via bicycle, not to mention the annual Harvest Festivals.

He now expresses his appreciation of the routines of the village and how this made him feel a sense of belonging.

“There is nothing in my life that compares to the kind of family and community interactions,” he said. “During the festivities (of the Harvest Festival), every household prepares a meal and there was a freedom of movement. People were welcome to freely eat, drink, dance and converse and in so doing, we all got to know each other better.”

It is important to mention that Winston Duke was educated here in the United States. He went through the school system in Rochester, N.Y. After high school, he attended the University of Buffalo and later the Yale School of Drama. And obviously, what he learned at the Yale School of Drama helped to elevate him to the status that he is enjoying today.

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