In “Black Panther,” Danai Gurira’s name is Okoye. On “The Walking Dead,” it’s Michonne. And in real life? Well, for a long time the actress wasn’t exactly sure.
The self-proclaimed “Zimerican” — a salute to her dual heritage — was born to Zimbabwean parents in Iowa, where her nickname quickly became Dede.
When she was 5, she found out she was actually Danai.
The family — mom and dad are academics — moved back to Zimbabwe, but it took years for Gurira to accept her given name. Once she was an adolescent, the world changed, she said.
She took her mom’s native language, Shona, out for a test drive from time to time, realized heritage was to be celebrated not denied and truly became Danai Jekesai Gurira. Hence a “Zimerican.”
“That choice has affected every choice I’ve made since — the stories I tell, the characters I play, the activism I embark upon,” she writes. “It has influenced everything from plays I write … to portraying a general of an African king’s army in ‘Black Panther’ to co-founding the nonprofit Almasi Arts, a Zimbabwean American dramatic arts collaborative.”