Winston Duke Photo/AB+DM
After his break-out role in 2018’s Black Panther, Tobagonian actor Winston Duke became an overnight celebrity. He now returns with a much bigger role in Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever, a film that has dominated the box office for the second time, bringing in over $500 million worldwide after two weekends in theaters. Black Panther helped raise Winston’s profile, making him one of the most sought-after Black actors in Hollywood.
Winston Duke is best known for his role in Black Panther and US. In 2018 he played M’Baku, the fearsome warrior and charismatic leader of the Jabari tribe in the box office hit Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. The Black Panther cast included the late Chadwick Boseman who played King T’Challa, his Afro-Caribbean sister, Guyanese actress Letitia Wright, who played princess Shuri, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, and Golden Globe winner Angela Bassett.
Black Panther introduced audiences to the fictional African nation of Wakanda, an Afrofuturist view of what African could be in its fullest glory. Wakanda is the idealized homeland of great wealth, natural resources, and the promise of Black liberation. Despite naysayers, this film is proof that Hollywood movies dominated by Black actors can achieve commercial success in the United States and abroad.
An Overnight Celebrity After Black Panther
Since his appearance in a few small scenes in the first Black Panther movie, Winston's career has taken off in a major way. He starred as Gabe, an upper-middle-class dad on the run from his tortured doppelgänger in Jordon Peele’s Blockbuster horror film Us in 2019. In 2020 Winston gave fans an outstanding performance in the evocative film about the affirmation of life Nine Days. The ascendant Caribbean star also starred in the Mark Wahlberg–Peter Berg cop drama Spenser Confidential and he sizzled alongside other A-listers in Rihanna's Savage X Fenty show Vol. 4 show.
When Duke returned for Black Panther 2, he negotiated a handsome raise which came with a more significant role. In the recently released Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Winston served as an advisor to Queen Ramonda and Princess Shuri. Towards the end of the movie, Shuri, became the Queen of Wakanda following the death of her mother, Ramonda. She went to Haiti to be with her nephew, Prince T’Challa, and his mother, Nakia. Since she was not present at Warrior Falls for her coronation, M’Baku became King of Wakanda, but of course with Shuri’s blessing.
Winston shared his contentment with this outcome with his social media fans. “Yeah, it’s kind of cool to be revealed as the King of Wakanda at the end of the movie. That’s huge. So, whatever that entails, it’s gonna be a fun one.”
Proud Afro Caribbean
Duke, thirty-six, grew up near the water in the town of Argyle on Tobago, the sister island to Trinidad. His mother, Cora Pantin, a restaurant owner and civil servant, had high hopes for her children. So, when his sister Cindy graduated from high school early and said she wanted to become a doctor, Pantin knew that Cindy would have a better shot of accomplishing her dreams in the United States.
Winston was nine years old when he moved to Brooklyn with his mother and sister. The latch-key kid attended P. S. 91, a public school in Crown Heights. When Duke got to high school, his mom Coco, felt it was safer for him to live with Cindy in Rochester, New York where she was attending the University of Rochester School of Medicine at the time. Living in Rochester, away from a big city, more closely resembled the quiet Caribbean life he was use to. His mother visited on the weekend and commuted back to Brooklyn for work during the week.
Cindy became an accomplished fertility doctor and Winston knew the pressure was on. In Esquire's Winter issue cover story he jokes that his mother wanted him to be a pastor. “Maybe you’ll still become a preacha,” he recalls her saying in a thick Tobagonian accent.
Winston Duke Finds His Calling
When Winston first moved to the U.S. he enjoyed watching American sitcoms as a way to learn the culture. But by high school, he started considering acting as a career after he spent weeks recreating an episode of Frasier.
Duke graduated from Brighton High School, in Rochester, New York in 2004 and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater from the University of Buffalo in 2009. He then took the LSATs and contemplated going to law school, but deep down, he knew that was not his calling.
The aspiring actor spent a year auditioning for parts and realized that he needed more training, so he enrolled in Yale University School of Drama and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting in 2013. While at Yale, Duke performed with its Repertory Theatre and was understudied for the part of Pisani in Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist.
It was at Yale that Duke met his co-star Lupita Nyong’o. They instantly bonded over their immigrant commonality and became fast friends. The pair joined a group at Yale called FOLKS, which was a Black student organization started by Angela Bassette, when she attended Yale.
Winston held small roles in theater productions and television shows between 2014 and 2016 including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Person of Interest, The Messengers, Major Crimes, and Modern Family, before landing his film debut in the Oscar-nominated Black Panther.
Winston Duke - leader of the Jabari tribe in Black Panther. Photo/Mavel Studios
The Black Panther sequel has certainly raised Winston’s profile; however, his career has just begun. While he seemingly goes from a supporting to a lead role at the end of Black Panther 2, he remains humble.
When asked in his Esquire interview how it feels to be in a more front and center role, he responded, “I don’t like to think of it that way,” he says. “I don’t agree that it’s in any way mine. Both Black Panther movies are really defined by its ensemble. And it was forced to be defined by its ensemble. When you lose your titular character, it was then placed on the shoulders of the group to pull the story together.”
Duke’s humility and quiet swagger is one of the many reasons fans adore him. It's also what makes him unstoppable.