Black Panther’s Winston Duke speaks on becoming an internet bae and the impact of M’Baku in Hollywood

The 31-year-old, six-foot-five, 250-pound actor is getting used to being thought of as a smart and sexy.

Winston Duke
(Courtesy of Instagram and Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

You may be tired of hearing about the money-making billion dollar machine that is Black Panther, but none of us are getting tired of seeing or hearing about breakout star, Winston Duke. 

The Wakandan actor recently talked about how he believes his role as M’Baku in the film has actually shifted the tides of Hollywood’s fascination with race and color. 

Audiences began fawning…even salivated…over Duke after his portrayal as the leader of the warrior tribe Jabari. 

Dubbed Twitter’s #MountainBae and inspiration for the #MBakuChallenge, the 31-year-old, six-foot-five, 250-pound actor is not new to the industry, but he is getting used to being thought of as a sex symbol. He shared with Essence how he is handling receiving all of this extra attention. 

“At first, I was really blown away by it, and then I started being like, ‘Maybe I am really sexy, this is really cool,” he said. ”I started feeling myself, but then I stopped and pulled back. I started reading the comments because I wanted to understand what’s going on.”

Duke says he came to a realization that the reactions were larger than himself and even the film itself. 

READ MORE: Flight from Hell: Black man’s hilarious fight against white woman’s feet goes viral

“I started to realize that what people were reacting to wasn’t me,” he shares with Essence. “What they were reacting to was a feeling of deficit when it came to images that they could consume in the media. A tall, broad-shouldered man with dark skin and a gap tooth—I wasn’t the image of ‘old Hollywood beauty.”

Duke confesses that he has felt boxed in by prior roles. 

“My experience before [Black Panther] felt incredibly limited when it came to the type of opportunities I was engaging with,” he said. “I was always relegated to the muscle—who was non-thinking and just a tool to be used by someone else—an athlete, or a bad guy who was bad for no reason. There wasn’t a lot of nuance offered with the characters.”

He also believes that people were attracted to M’Baku because he “was a Black man who isn’t playing into any kind of respectability politics in the film.”

Duke has high hopes for changes in Hollywood and would prefer if there were more opportunities for people of color to break the typical stereotypes.

READ MORE: Austin Mourns: Meet 17-year-old musician killed by package bomb

”I need to not be typecast as big, Black and dumb, but be seen as an intelligent, witty, bold and charismatic person,” said the Tobago native. “We need more opportunity to see more characters that have a fresh level of expression and that can only come—not just from me—[but] from people in positions of creative and financial power to support films and support films with characters who are multi-dimensional.”

He added, ”I want all of the work that I do to have a social justice footprint attached. I want it to move the needle forward when it comes to the perception of all people, but especially people of color.”