Our Interview with Black Panther's Marija Abney!
You're probably familiar with the Golden Globe Nominated, reakout blockbuster film Black Panther. The film is said to have grossed over $1.3 Billion in the box office worldwide and with Marvel gearing up for Avenger's EndGame, who knows what will be left up for the Black Panther Franchise. One thing that we're particularly proud of is the fact that we got to talk with a powerful member of the Dora Milaje herself, Marija Abney! If you don't know the Dora Milaje, the group of striking beautiful warriors who fight and protect Wakanda. They're a group of girl bosses whom we absolutely stan! In our brief chat with Marija, we've discovered that she's just as fierce in real life as she is in the movie! Check out the interview below!
Interview Conducted by: Nia Shumake
NS: What’s your mantra?
MA: Nobody can be me better than I can.
NS: What was your childhood like?
MA: I grew up in South Carolina. It was quiet in comparison to NYC for sure. I was the little girl who insisted on wearing dresses to school and being upside down on the monkey bars, so I always wore shorts under my frilly frocks. Retrospectively, there was trauma in my childhood that I am working on healing now, but I was a happy kid. My sisters and I had so many pets (dogs, cats, fish, and even bunnies) and I showed the boys how to do pull-ups, even then.
NS: How did you get into the arts? At what moment did you realize that you were going to make a career out of it?
MA: My mom took me to see Alvin Ailey perform when I was 2 years old and I said “Mommy I want to do that.” I knew I was going to make a career being an artist after I quit dancing and worked in corporate America for 8 months. I was miserable. I CANNOT function without art.
NS: Currently, you’re gaining notoriety for your role in Black Panther —- what was it like auditioning? How has your life changed since the movie came out early this year?
MA: Production flew a few women to Atlanta to work a day with the stunt team, really just to make sure we could handle the physicality of the role and pick up choreography. We worked in the gym familiarizing ourselves with staff technique, learned combos and basic stunt skills, and had “show and tell” for Ryan Coogler (director), Nate Moore (producer), and other members of the production team. It was about executing the movement, but also embodying the fierceness of the Dora Milaje. I remember I caught a 6am flight from NYC and was taken straight to the studio because I was in an off Broadway show at the time and performed the night before.
Life has changed and it hasn’t. I’ve been fortunate enough to work extensively with Marvel since Panther’s debut which has been AMAZING. But I’m an artist who trains hard. So that remains. I’m performing, studying, and “gyming” (it’s a verb for me) all the time. The target is always moving, possibilities always expanding.
NS: The Dora Milaje are known for their fierceness, the film did an amazing job and displaying this particular quality. In what ways do you think you embody what your character represents?
MA: The Dora Milaje are strong, intelligent, beautiful women bound by a sisterhood and a common cause. In the film, because of Wakadan ritual, when Killmonger is thought to have killed T’Challa, the Dora Milaje “hold the line” but they are visibly shaken. They aren’t women without emotion, they are complete, complicated human beings. They are simultaneously what I am and what I aspire to be.
NS: Did you cut your hair for the film? If not, when did you cut it? How are you seeing yourself now because of it— what’s your journey been like?
MA: I did not. I cut my hair about 8 years ago when I was performing in The Lion King. I was working with South African women who would have weaves down their backs one day and be absolutely bald the next without conversation or contemplation. I wanted that relationship with my hair, I wanted to prove to myself that my femininity had nothing to do with my hair. Finding MY femininity, how I choose to be a woman has been extremely important to me. It’s been a journey, a journey that started with a pair of clippers. AND I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!
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CELEBRATING THE SKIN I’M IN! I love having the confidence to walk the red carpet in a feathered headdress, mesh bodice, and a sequined train. @thechershow ... Thank you @rapisoffensive for collaborating on this BOLD, SEXY, ELEGANT look! And thanks @broadwaycom for capturing this moment (and as a trifecta no less)! ... #strongissexy #blackbeauty #actor #actorlife #broadway #fashion #blackbroadway #headdress #body #ilovemymuscles #sculpted #redcarpet #redcarpetdress #theater #musicaltheater #blackexcellence #tomford #dairdesign #wxyzjewelry #thechershow #thechershowbroadway @tomford @dairdesign @wxyzjewelry
NS: Growing up, what did you believe to be beautiful? Did you fit your own beauty standards?
MA: I remember my mom used to get so mad at me when I was little because I’d climb up to the water fountain at my dance studio and wet my hair to get it to lay flatter like the little white girls’. I wished my name was Ashley. I stood in the back of class because I was the ONLY little brown girl at my dance school. Needless to say, no, I was not my idea of beautiful. But I didn’t see “me” on TV. I didn’t see me in magazines. That’s why films like Black Panther are so important. I am so proud to see little black girls dressing as Dora Milaje with their natural hair and their beautiful brown skin!
NS: For you, where do you think beauty and the arts intertwined? Has your perception of beauty changed since becoming more visible in the industry?
MA: That’s a large question. As audience members we are never not evaluating according to our own standards of beauty, whether we’re at a museum or listening to a symphony. Any type of stimuli we take in is being filtered through our aesthetic preferences, even the most pedestrian of sounds or smells. We evaluate everything according to our own standards of beauty, but can find great value and beauty in “ugly” objects and experiences. Art and beauty are never separate.
I continue to evolve as a person and an artist, but my perception of beauty isn’t dependent on the industry or any increase in my visibility.
NS: What’s a beauty hack that you hold close?
MA: WATER. The difference in the texture of my skin when I’m well hydrated is crazy. I start chugging water days before any event where I may be photographed.
NS: Your striking bald look probably causes a lot of attention, is there anything about yourself that you wish the press emphasized more?
MA: Ask me again in 2 years.
NS: How can we keep up with your future projects?
MA: I generally suck at social media but I’m getting better. I post about upcoming roles and projects on instagram @marija_abney. Currently I am an ensemble member in the Broadway musical The Cher Show.