“I’m Determined to Show Where I Stand,”—Michaela Coel on Playing a Queer Character in Black Panther

Actor-writer-director Michaela Coel would like to get one thing straight: she’s not the Black Panther in the upcoming franchise sequel. She made that clear to the assembled crowd at Vogue’s Forces of Fashion summit in New York, where she sat down with Vogue.com editor Chioma Nnadi to discuss all things Black Panther, fashion, and social media. 

The character she is playing is Aneka, a rebellious captain. The part could not be more important to Coel, as Aneka is a queer woman, which allows Coel to represent the LGBTQ+ community on screen at a time when their rights are being threatened in many places across the globe. “Huge franchises are not necessarily my desires as a creator, but Ryan [Coogler, the director] called me and explained the character to me, and I had a visceral reaction to her being a queer Black woman in the Marvel Universe,” Coel told Nnadi. “It meant a lot to me.”

As for what she’ll be wearing to the premieres, Coel will have some help from people close to her. Namely her mom, and the top-tier designers whose careers she’s watched grow and who have become friends. “My thing is the designer: who is the person rather than the brand,” she said. 

She and her mom are very close, and have only become closer thanks to Coel’s art. They watched I May Destroy You, Coel’s breakout TV show together. “She began to open up to me about her own stories and her own life,” Coel said. “And I didn’t realize we had these things in common, so we’ve been made stronger.” 

Coel also discussed how she’s adjusted to fame, and how it’s affected her close relationships. Around the time the sitcom Chewing Gum, which Coel created, wrote, and starred in, came out, an ex told her something sobering. “My ex saw me and said to me ‘I heard you’re struggling with fame,’” she says. “It was such an ex thing to say, but it was a saving grace.” For further explanation—as well as Coel’s interest in UFC fighting, her gift from Beyoncé, and childhood pranks—visit the Forces of Fashion website. 

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