Daniel Kaluuya: Without Limits
In the early 2000s, British sitcom’s hit differently especially with shows like Misfits and Skins because it showed the contrast in British society as opposed to the Nigerian society.
Among the cast of Skins, an actor that stood out was Daniel Kaluuya who played the role of Posh Kenneth and was one of the only two black lead characters.
Kaluuya began his career as a teenager in improvisational theatre before making his appearance on Skins. Afterwards, he played the lead role in Sucker Punch at the Royal Court Theatre in London, where he won rave reviews for his performance and he won both the Evening Standard Award and Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Outstanding Newcomer.
He also boasts prominent big-screen blockbusters like Johnny English Reborn and Kick-Ass 2. In 2015, he had a supporting role in Denis Villeneuve’s film Sicario and in 2018, he portrayed W’Kabi in Marvel’s Afrocentric box office hit Black Panther among others.
He has been nominated for the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, and BAFTA Award for Best Actor for his leading role as Chris Washington in the 2017 horror film Get Out.
Most recently, he has just concluded filming on his latest film Queen and Slim. Kaluuya is dressed in an all-black ensemble and is visibly still getting familiar with the new environment when we meet. I appreciate that he is intent on learning the correct pronunciation of my name.
We share a few laughs and then jump right into it, with the first question fashioned to address one of the biggest problems of people of color in the West… Racism.
On Racism and Seeking Justice
His latest project Queen and Slim is an American romantic crime drama film directed by Melina Matsoukas and the plot follows two African-Americans who go on the run after killing a police officer during a traffic stop gone wrong.
The allure of the film to a lot of viewers was the fact that for the first time, the narrative was shifted from the typical “Black man gets gunned down by racist police officer” to “Black man stands up and fights racist police officer”.
The role of Slim played by Kaluuya was embodied by the actor because, like many Black men, he had also personally experienced racism first hand.
“A number of times, I’ve been stopped and searched, twice out in London and just generally getting into awful situations because of the colour of your skin and that’s happened quite a few times.”
Kaluuya is strong-willed and not one to just lay down and take the abuse as he had previously sued the police at the age of 24.
“I sued the police at 24 and that made me understand how it works and why it happens on a different level. When stuff like that happens, I don’t think they should get away with it because they’re human beings.”
Although he [Kaluuya] wasn’t necessarily trying to make a revolutionary film at the start, he saw the potential and message that Queen and Slim had from the onset.
“I saw that it [Queen and Slim] was polarising in a way that it would travel and when things polarise, people talk and it would spread more.
“When I was shooting I was concerned with what I would need to tell the story as effectively as possible.”
The actor’s latest film, Queen and Slim is encoded with everything a typical Black person fantasises about which are; Justice, Black love and good music but most importantly, it speaks to him.
“It speaks to me. It’s not like, strategically I’m going to do this or do that. It’s like yo, this is a perspective that I feel and that people around me feel, but it’s not out there, do you know what I’m saying? And I was like I just want to show that.”
Kaluuya does not equate the story of Queen and Slim to Bonnie and Clyde like a lot of fans opine, rather he views this comparison as inaccurate.
“I think it’s not accurate, that’s what it is. It’s a reductive way to describe it but I understand why people would go with that narrative because [Queen and Slim] become a couple on the run.
Our goal was to introduce a new archetype in that space, especially from a Black perspective. Bonnie and Clyde committed crimes but for Slim and Queen, their skin was criminalized and that’s why they were in that situation. So, it’s different.”
On His Career and The Future
As an international film star, Daniel Kaluuya has been able to show his range in a number of blockbusters but his most famous superhero appearance was in Marvel’s Black Panther.
For a lot of Black people around the world, the significance of the film was unparalleled because merely seeing a visualisation of a society where Africans were self-sufficient and not reliant on external sources for survival, sent chills down the spines of the audience.
Kaluuya played the role of W’Kabi, a warrior and lover to Okoye. He strongly believes that there would be more films like Black Panther because of how significant and well-received it was.
“I believe one hundred percent that we would see more movies [films] like that because of how well it resonated and the huge support it got from the people.
“It was an untapped narrative that people hadn’t really explored before and thanks to it, there would be a trend of a lot more narratives from that perspective.”
While some people have a sort of vision board that guides their actions, Daniel Kaluuya prefers not to be caged and limited by any factors so he goes with the flow and acts as he is inspired.
“I don’t really think of my life post fourteen, I don’t really have any expectations and I feel like if I had expectations they would have probably limited the time I achieved the goals that I did so if something speaks to me, I just go towards it not caring about how I look or how old I am, I would just try and go towards it because if I can think it then I could make it possible. I try not to project because I might be limiting myself.”
On Nigeria, his admiration for the music and Nollywood possibilities
This is Kaluuya’s first time in Nigeria and he prides himself with his knowledge of Nigerian musical artistes and his admiration for African food.
He points out that he listens to Wizkid, Burna Boy and Tekno when asked about Nigerian music.
Kaluuya’s mother often watches Nigerian films and that’s how he was introduced to them.
“Once in a while, when my mum watches them [Nigerian films] so when I’m with my mum I watch them. I can’t remember any names in particular right now because I wasn’t jotting them down but I watch them on the African channels and just experience the story.”
He is rather open to making a Nollywood debut but would only do so if the content of the film resonates with him.
“Of course, If the right project came along and it speaks to me or something I’m interested in. That’s part of the reason I’m here to kind of connect the dots”
Kaluuya insists that he would love to be more involved in the continent by having an African premiere for every film he does in the future.
“I would love to have a premiere in Africa for every film I do because I just feel like this is what I’m about and it speaks to me.”
He started his plan to premiere in African countries with Queen and Slim but sadly, due to political reasons, he could only visit two countries.
“We went to Joburg and now Nigeria although we chose more countries, it’s just quite difficult to come in from the outside. We wanted to do Uganda and Ghana but there was just politics that required that we be on the ground in order to get the connections to pull it off.”
Regardless of restrictions, Daniel Kaluuya is on an upward trajectory and judging by his energy and openness to divergent projects, it is unlikely that he would be cooling down anytime soon. He has certainly come a long way from Kentish Town.