Winston Duke: A Star Is Born

Before the hit movie “Black Panther” many of us probably hadn’t heard of the name Winston Duke. Audiences might have caught a glimpse of Duke making the rounds on network shows like Modern Family, Person of Interest or Law & Order. But after the blockbuster debuted, the handsome 6-foot-5 young man is on the mind of many us, including all of his new young ladies admirers.

The 31-year-old was introduced to millions of moviegoers and obsessive comic book fans as M’Baku, the leader of the distant Jabari mountain tribe and a villainous foe to Wakandan King T’Challa.

In the Black Panther comics, M’Baku is a classically jealous rival, itching to take the crown from the King. In the film, M’Baku is still combative and ambitious to take the throne, but in the end, he’s grounded in a loyalty to his people above all else. When he first read the film’s script, Duke noticed that M’Baku often says “we” instead of “I”—the symbol of a true leader.

(Photo credit: Winston Duke twitter)

“He’s deeply attached to his community and the welfare of his people,” the actor says to Vanity Fair. “This is a lot more than I could have ever expected, especially for my first role.”

It was in this first major movie role that his friend, fellow co-star and former Yale classmate, Lupita N’yongo coached and cheered him on to get. They were both members of Folks, an acting club on campus for students of color, which was co-founded by Yale alum Angela Bassett—who, yes, is also in Black Panther. She was actually the first person he met on campus, because she was a tour guide taking him around campus. The two actually saw the first Avengers movie together and talked about one that they too would be on the big screen. Little did they know that that day would come sooner than either one of them thought.

Duke grew up in Tobago, in a small village called Argyle; a light accent still colors his voice. His mother worked for the government and had a restaurant on the side that often reeled in tourists. When Duke was a kid, he would show people to their tables, quickly learning how to charm strangers.

When he was 9, his mother sold the restaurant and all their earthly possessions and moved the family to a studio apartment in Brooklyn in order to support Duke’s older sister as she pursued her dream of becoming a doctor. As she shuttled back and forth to the City College of New York, Duke withdrew into himself, spending most days after school going to the library or to a local comic-book store called Winston’s.

It was one of his Spanish teachers that noticed Winston would come alive whenever he had to make presentations to the class. So she signed him up for the theater club and he never looked back, going on to study…