T’Challa may be king of Wakanda, but M’Baku and the Jabari were the real stars of Black Panther. In a new interview, actor Winston Duke reveals that the Jabari are dependent on a totally different resource than vibranium, which has also enabled the brutish Jabari to thrive technologically. That resource, it turns out, is wood.
On Wednesday, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Duke talked about how M’Baku and the mountainous Jabari have evolved while being separated from the rest of Wakanda. It wasn’t explored at length in the film, but the Jabari live off a sacred Jabari wood that Duke says can go “toe-to-toe” with vibranium.
“[T]his is something we didn’t get to interrogate deeply in the film, but everything for them is based around this Jabari wood that comes from this sacred tree,” Duke explained.
In the movie, M’Baku’s throne room is designed with a type of modernist, minimalist polished wood, which is supposed to be Jabari wood. “Everything in Jabari land is made out of this sacred wood that can essentially go toe-to-toe with a Vibranium sword or a Vibranium weapon because it’s this tempered, strong, treated wood.
“[T]hey’re not against technology. They’re against Vibranium. Their society is based around Jabari wood,” adds Duke.
Duke further explained the dogmatic origins of the Jabari wood, which may in fact be wood with vibranium infused with it (in the CGI prologue, it’s explained that the vibranium meteor spread the metal across all of Wakanda). “They believe it was given to them by Hanuman, the ape god. Meanwhile, the people of Wakanda will say, ‘No, it’s actually the Vibranium that’s seeped into the wood. That makes it stronger.’” You have this whole divergence of ideas. They’re quite technologically sophisticated but it’s based around wood.”
In Black Panther, Duke (Person of Interest) played M’Baku, who in the comics is a Black Panther villain who leads a cult of white gorilla worshippers. M’Baku also goes by the name “Man-Ape,” which producer Nate Moore said was changed for the film due to potential racial undertones. “I wasn’t worried about playing a guy that was called Man-Ape, because I actually felt within this world or Wakanda, that’s never been conquered, that’s never had a lot of narratives and false narratives place upon it, a character who’s not been exposed to internalized inferiority about animals and being animalistic, he wouldn’t embody that,” Duke told EW. “To him, that’s a source and place of pride.”
However, Duke also understood that Black Panther is a movie in a world where there are false narratives in place. “I understood the larger context of the world we do live in, what that would mean and how that would come off, and I also respect it.”
After the release of Black Panther, Duke’s M’Baku and the Jabari became fan-favorites, being proud people who helped T’Challa fight back against the insurrection led by Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). M’Baku will return in Avengers: Infinity War on May 4 to help T’Challa and the Avengers fight Thanos.
Black Panther is now playing in theaters.