Why the cast of Black Panther looks so familiar

The Marvel bigwigs have a knack for topnotch casting, and Black Panther, the Marvel Cinematic Universe's 2018 venture into the the Kingdom of Wakanda, is no exception. This film's sprawling cast includes familiar faces and new additions to the MCU, and as you may have already noticed, many of Wakanda's heroes and villains look—and sound—very familiar. Let's take a look at where you've already seen the talented men and women behind Marvel's Black Panther.

Chadwick Boseman - T'Challa/Black Panther

As king of the isolated Kingdom of Wakanda and the man behind the Black Panther mask, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is both the political and literal protector of his people—so we'd say he probably has a few more responsibilities than the average guy. Still, just because he can kick bad guy butt with the best of 'em thanks to a mysterious Heart-Shaped Herb that grants him enhanced physical prowess, that doesn't mean he is without a strict code of honor. Not only did he spare big bad Helmut Zemo during the chaotic events of Captain America: Civil War, he prevented the terrorist from committing suicide, handing him over for incarceration instead. Plus, he granted Bucky asylum—and free use of Wakanda's cryogenic technology—after realizing Cap's ol' buddy wasn't behind his father's death during the signing of the Sokovia Accords.

While Boseman has appeared in a number of hugely successful biopics, portraying Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up, and a young Thurgood Marshall in the aptly titled Marshall, the British American Drama Academy graduate got his start with a series of minor roles in procedural dramas and soaps like CSI, Third Watch, Law & Order, and All My Children in the early 2000s. In 2010, he landed his first recurring role on the psychological drama Persons Unknown. Not bad—especially considering Boseman, who's also a playwright, initially wanted to stick to writing and directing. 

Danai Gurira - Okoye

Okoye (Danai Gurira) may seem like a newcomer to Marvel fans who stick to the flicks, but, in the comics, she plays a pivotal role in the survival of not only T'Challa himself, but the whole of Wakanda. As a member of the reinstated Dora Milaje—an order of bodyguards who also serve as potential future wives of the Wakandan King—Okoye's mission is straightforward yet imperative: protecting Black Panther at all costs…even if he doesn't look like he needs much protection.

It's no surprise Gurira's Marvel counterpart looks like she knows how to handle herself with a deadly weapon. After all, she's no stranger to onscreen weapon-swinging—she trained with a legit sword master in preparation to play Michonne on AMC's The Walking Dead. She's also shown off the acting chops she developed at the Tisch School of the Arts graduate acting program, going on to portray one half of a Nigerian couple struggling through fertility issues in the 2013 drama Mother of George, a role that nabbed her multiple award nominations. She'd return to the big screen in the 2017 biopic All Eyez on Me, playing Afeni Shakur, mother of late rapper Tupac Shakur.

Michael B. Jordan - N'Jadaka/Erik Killmonger

When N'Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan) chose his supervillain pseudonym, subtlety was the last thing on his mind. We all know what kind of message a guy with the name "Erik Killmonger" is trying to get across. In the Black Panther comics, Killmonger means serious business. Exiled from Wakanda by T'Chaka—T'Challa's father and former Black Panther—the villain formerly known as N'Jadaka would go on to develop a fiery hatred for both his motherland's new ruler and one Ulysses Klaue, the arms dealer who roped his father into villainy and then promptly fled the country. Weirdly, trailers for the upcoming film seem to indicate that the two will be working together to take down Wakanda's new costumed king.

If you've got any taste in TV, you'll immediately recognize the actor behind this literal copycat from his portrayal of Wallace from The Wire. Following his season-long stint on the HBO hit, Jordan took his talents to Friday Night Lights, joining the cast for its fourth and fifth seasons as Vince Howard, and in 2013, he worked with future Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, portraying shooting victim Oscar Grant in 2015's Fruitvale Station. He'd later earn acclaim for his work in the Rocky spinoff Creed (and star in the ill-fated Fantastic Four reboot, but we don't need to talk about that here).

Lupita Nyong'o - Nakia

In the Black Panther comics, the loyal Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) is a Dora Milaje warrior keeping her watchful eye on T'Challa and the isolationist Wakandans—or, rather, she was before she became totally obsessed with the latest BP in the bloodline and was booted from the squad. After a sequence of super complicated and equally super manipulative events involving illusions, murder, and Mephisto that will definitely not make it into the movie, T'Challa strips the forlorn Nakia of her title, disgraces her, and encourages her tribe—and all of Wakanda—to shun her. Her rage, coupled with the convenient arrival of Killmonger in her life, inspired Nakia to take on a new equally-straightforwardly-named alias: Malice.

While Lupita Nyong'o got her first big break in the heartrending 12 Years a Slave—which snagged the young star an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress—sci-fi and fantasy fans (read: the ones watching Marvel movies) will most likely recognize her as the voice of Maz Kanata in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, also providing motion capture performance for the Takodanian smuggler sympathizer. She also provided a vocal performance for The Jungle Book's Raksha, wolf mother to Neel Sethi's Mowgli, in the 2016 live-action reimagining.

Forest Whitaker - Zuri

Drawing comparisons to Star Wars' Obi-Wan Kenobi, Zuri (Forest Whitaker) has been described as a spiritual figure akin to a shaman with strong links to T'Challa's father, T'Chaka. In the comics, Zuri, a war veteran, was the late ruler's loyal attendant; while little is known about the character's film counterpart at the time of writing, sources speculate that he may be connected to the Heart-Shaped Herb ceremony that provides each Black Panther with their enhanced senses and abilities while also cementing their status as rightful heir to the Wakandan throne.

Forest Whitaker is an actor renowned for his adaptability. In other words: no matter what kind of films you're into, chances are you've seen this brilliant actor somewhere. A fan of military dramedies? Whitaker portrayed Private First Class Edward Montesquieu "Eddie" Garlick in Golden Globe-winning Good Morning, Vietnam. Dig a gruesome, gritty historical piece every now and then? You'll recognize the actor from his portrayal of former Ugandan president Idi Amin in 2008's The Last King of Scotland. Into genre-bending hip-hop samurai/mafia bloodbaths? No prob. You'll know him as the titular character from Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. And as his appearance in Black Panther attests, he isn't averse to the occasional blockbuster—in fact, he was recently seen in a galaxy far, far away, playing the guerrilla Rebel known as Saw Gerrera in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Angela Bassett - Ramonda

While we only get a brief glimpse of T'Challa's stepmother, Queen Ramonda, in the Black Panther trailers, her story the film's source material is one haunted by kidnapping, sexual abuse, and physical disability. After T'Challa's birth mother died in childbirth, T'Chaka married Ramonda, with whom he ruled until she was abducted by Anton Pretorius, a racist South African magistrate who sent altered photos to the Wakandan king to make it appear as though his queen had run off with another man. Eventually, T'Challa rescued her from Pretorius' clutches, but later arcs would see her gravely wounded when a terrorist attack in the Golden City left her with broken legs and fractured vertebrae and caused her to slip into a coma—though she would eventually recover. Suffice it to say, she'd never had it easy.

Angela Bassett, on the other hand, has cemented herself as a veritable legend on the big—and small—screen. Starring in a string of critically acclaimed '90s films like Malcolm XWhat's Love Got to Do With ItHow Stella Got Her Groove Back, and Waiting to Exhale, Bassett would later bring her talents to television, nabbing big roles in a number of Ryan Murphy-run shows like American Horror Story and the upcoming FOX police procedural 9-1-1 alongside fellow AHS alum Connie Britton.

​Daniel Kaluuya - W'Kabi

Hostile toward outsiders and endlessly loyal to his allies—especially T'Challa—W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) is (or was, if you're talking the comic book incarnate) a force to be reckoned with. Not only is W'Kabi Black Panther's right-hand man and guy most likely to say, "If you wanna get to him, you'll have to go through me first," but the chief of Wakandan security is also a capable warrior with a bionic arm that emits devastating blasts of energy. Pitting his very life on the line for his king and best friend—and losing it in the process—W'Kabi sacrifices himself to buy time for a wounded T'Challa in an arc from Reginald Hudlin's 2009 run. Fortunately, Kaluuya's big screen take on the Wakandan protector looks no worse for wear in the few glimpses we get in the movie's trailer—but who knows whether he'll survive his MCU adventure.

While Kaluuya appeared in a handful of films in the early 2000s—along with a recurring role in the British drama Skins and a well-received performance in an episode of Black Mirror—it was a minor role in 2013's Kick-Ass 2 as Black Death that kickstarted his rise to fame. He would go on to become a household name in 2017, when he starred in the award-winning Jordan Peele-directed psychological thriller Get Out.

Florence Kasumba - Ayo

Every organization needs a leader—and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) heads the Dora Milaje with confidence and poise. Introduced to MCU viewers in Captain America: Civil War, she nearly came to blows with Natalia Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), during a confrontation about everybody's favorite big cat on campus, T'Challa. Her appearance is brief, and she only utters six words in total, but her aggressive devotion to her king—not to mention her sheer badassery—is unforgettable.

Kasumba is still relatively new to American film and television, having appeared in only a handful of productions like 2017's hugely successful Wonder Woman movie (in which she played Senator Acantha). She also had a recurring role in two ill-fated TV shows: Syfy's supernatural thriller Dominion, which lasted for two seasons, and Emerald City, an edgy reimagining of The Wizard of Oz—which unfortunately, was canceled after only 10 episodes. International film aficionados, however, will be sure to recognize her from a number of Dutch and German releases, including 2001's award-winning I Love You Too (Ik ook van jou) and 2014's Age of Cannibals (Zeit der Kannibalen).

Sterling K. Brown - N'Jobu

When it was announced that Sterling K. Brown would be portraying a character in Black Panther, Marvel fanatics everywhere scrambled to dissect their comic book collections, speculating about who it might be. But when word got around that he'd be playing a character named N'Jobu, geeks across the globe collectively scratched their heads in confusion. Cryptically described as "a character from T'Challa's past," this "N'Jobu" appears nowhere in the pages of the Black Panther comics—and we don't even know what the character looks like, since he hasn't appeared in any of the film's trailers. But a brand new character could help expand the MCU and give it some dramatic weight—and, given Brown's past performances, it'll be a real treat for viewers who like their action blockbusters with a heart-wrenching punch right in the feels.

If Brown looks familiar, it's probably because you've seen that glorious smile in This is Us, NBC's tear-jerking, multigenerational drama and weaponized emotional roller coasterThe award-winning actor portrays Randall Pearson, one of the show's main characters in an ensemble cast that also includes Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia. But even those without a masochistic desire to bawl into their pillows every Tuesday night would recognize Brown—the same man behind Randall, the ever-anxious weather trader—as Christopher Darden, famed prosecutor in Ryan Murphy's The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story.

Letitia Wright - Shuri

T'Challa's half-sister Shuri is definitely a runner-up for biggest badass in Wakanda. With super smarts to rival the likes of Tony Stark and a penchant for donning the Panther Habit in her brother's absence, she's proven herself to be just as capable of her male counterparts on many occasions. While Shuri's comics iteration is the perfect combination of formally-trained fighter and no-holds-barred brawler, Black Panther's latest trailer suggests that her MCU counterpart will trade the Anti-Metal claws for powerful panther-faced blaster gloves, taking her tech-savvy talents to the battlefield alongside her brother and the Dora Milaje.

Let's get one thing straight: Letitia Wright deserves all the roles. She more than proved she could lead a feature film when, in 2015, she took center stage in Michael Caton-Jones' powerful, award-winning Urban Hymn. That was a huge year for Wright, as she snagged not only a recurring role in the sci-fi drama Humans, but was also tapped to portray Anahson in the Doctor Who episode "Face the Raven." While she's mostly credited with bit roles in British television shows like Top BoyComing Up, and Chasing Shadows, American audiences will definitely be seeing more of her soon—Wright's busy 2018 also includes appearances in Netflix's Black Mirror and Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One.

Winston Duke - M'Baku

M'Baku—known in the Black Panther comics as the super offensively-named Man-Ape—will thankfully not be taking his source material's pseudonym in the MCU. However, according to Winston Duke, the actor portraying the young Jabari tribe leader, audiences may get a glimpse of some iteration of the antagonist's white gorilla getup. But we won't hold our breath for a faithful recreation of the character's origin storyafter all, his transformation from M'Baku into Man-Ape entailed the consumption of a mystical gorilla's flesh, and we're not sure that same process will translate well on the big screen.

While M'Baku is a pretty well-known—and feared—villain in the Black Panther comics, the man behind the tattered breastplate, Winston Duke, is relatively new to acting. Duke, who has a background in theatre, began his television acting career in 2014 when he guest starred on an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit as a high school football player named Cedric Jones. That same year, the young actor portrayed Dominic Besson, a.k.a. Mini, in a seven-episode arc of CBS crime thriller Person of Interest. 2015 would see him guest starring on The Closer spinoff Major Crimes, while he would play another football player—a character named Dwight—in 2016 in three episodes of Modern Family.

Martin Freeman - Everett Ross

First introduced in Captain America: Civil War, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) is Deputy Task Force Commander of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. A major proponent of the Sokovia Accords, which would regulate the Avengers' actions by keeping them on a UN-controlled leash, Ross came into conflict with Captain America and Bucky after the terrorist attack on the Vienna International Centre. We all know how that turned out: Tony Stark exposed Zemo's role in the bombing, the terrorist was taken into custody, Bucky was shipped to Wakanda, and all seemed well—until the events of Black Panther. Trailers show the CIA operative interrogating a handcuffed Klaue, with the latter divulging details about Wakanda to a baffled Ross—cue the ensuing looks of dismay from T'Challa and Okoye, watching behind a not-so-convincing one-way mirror.

Martin Freeman is everywhere: from portraying Dr. John H. Watson in BBC's Sherlock opposite fellow MCUer Benedict Cumberbatch to stepping into the furry, oversized feet of Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit trilogy, Freeman's filmography resembles a laundry list of big-name films (Hot Fuzz), quirky TV shows (Fargo), rom-coms (Love Actually), and everything in between. After getting his big break on the British version of The Office, Freeman would go on to star in a number of mostly comedic films including Edgar Wright's Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy and 2005's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in which he plays reluctant and newly-evicted-from-Earth protagonist Arthur Dent.

Andy Serkis - Klaue

One of the most exciting new additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe has got to be Ulysses Klaue, our resident sociopathic South African arm dealer (get it?) who was first introduced to audiences in Avengers: Age of Ultron. While actor Andy Serkis brings sadistic charm and a roguish look to the role, fans of the Marvel comics likely know the appropriately-named Klaue as Klaw, a supervillain made of living sound. While we've seen the baddie's sonic disrupter in action in the Black Panther trailer, we're doubtful that the MCU's newest heel is about to leap into a "sound transformer" and come out lookin' like a diet Sentinel

Regardless as to whether or not we get another Zemo design overhaul, Andy Serkis' involvement means there's a chance we'll get some kind of transformation. He'd only been working on TV and film for around six years before Peter Jackson cast Serkis as Gollum in The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001, inspiring the "cyber-thespian" to dedicate his career—or, at least, a good chunk of it—to motion capture performance. Serkis reprised his role as Gollum in Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy, and he's lent his talent to the Star Wars sequel films as Supreme Leader Snoke, but he's perhaps best known for his portrayal of Caesar, the tragic protagonist of the Planet of the Apes films.