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‘Black Panther’ Breakout Winston Duke to Battle White Supremacists in ‘Heroine’

Duke already had the breakthrough of dreams in one of the best blockbusters of 2018, but he is ready to branch out on his own in ‘Heroine.’
Black Panther Winston Duke
Marvel Studios
By  · Published on October 2nd, 2018

Who’s your favorite Black Panther breakout? For this writer, it definitely changes every time I revisit the film, because very rarely do ensemble casts turn out that solid. However, the actors who were the most impressive during my very first viewing were the ones I hadn’t actually seen in features prior to the film’s release. This short list comprises Letitia Wright, who plays the ingenious Shuri, and Winston Duke, who embodies the formidable M’Baku.

Duke truly lucked out with his biggest break yet. He got to debut on the world stage in one of the MCU’s best superhero films to date. M’Baku provides one of the many different counterpoints to protagonist T’Challa, with Duke lending both ferocity and hilarity to his imposing performance. This excellent character was turned into an Internet challenge for good measure, which is pretty significant in this day and age of salient meme culture.

Duke’s gargantuan year in franchise movies only got better when he went on to appear in Avengers: Infinity War. Admittedly, he fills a more tempered role in this movie and has less of a chance to vibrantly steal the show. However, his straightforward no-nonsense demeanor is still a treat to witness among a slew of characters who are literally helplessly scrambling for survival.

The bottom line is that everyone ought to gun for more Duke across all screens. Get him the leading roles he deserves! His charisma just demands it. Luckily, as revealed by The Hollywood Reporter, Duke is well on his way to stardom. He could evolve into an action hero in Heroine, a film billed as an action thriller. The movie will be written and directed by Daniel Casey, who came to prominence this year with the sci-fi action offering Kin.

Heroine is about a mother and domestic abuse survivor who moves into a new neighborhood in search of a fresh start. Unfortunately, her potential safety is subsequently threatened when she witnesses a kidnapping orchestrated by a local Aryan gang. This is where Duke, who portrays her neighbor, then enters into the picture. THR notes that he is “a tragic figure who turns out to be much more than [the protagonist] expected.”

There are several ways Heroine could go, as a synopsis like the aforementioned one is just vague enough to accommodate multiple storylines. An initial gut reaction to reading Duke’s name in such close proximity to the term “action thriller” inspired hope for some kind of indulgent genre movie. And even if it isn’t a straight-up vigilante flick, the cinematic climate that breeds both the polished brutality of John Wick as well as the choreographed cunning of Atomic Blonde signals a market for more badasses. Duke would fit the bill perfectly.

Still, the movie is titled Heroine. We should definitely expect more than one renegade to rise from the ashes of their dark past, and also very much welcome it. Whoever is cast in the titular role will have to be a powerhouse considering the emotional demands of the part. But I’m already ready for the eponymous heroine to kick ass, take names, and fight for her agency.

In this case, Duke would make the perfect co-star. He wouldn’t necessarily be sidelined either, since the emphasis on his character’s persistent woes implies that he has unfinished business to attend to, likely involving the white supremacists referenced in the summary.

My only concern about Heroine so far lies in its helmer and scribe. Casey wrote and directed smaller features early in his career to little renown, namely The Passage and The Death of Michael Smith, which were both released in the early half of the 2000s. Meanwhile, Kin – Casey’s most notable breakthrough in the film industry to date – ends up being a little too uneven to be a complete home run.

Although bolstered by the efforts of a phenomenal cast, including the ethereal Zoë Kravitz and excellent newcomer Myles Truitt, Kin deals with a slew of disparate themes and genre elements that ultimately water down the product as a whole. Luckily, the film isn’t a total bust and actually works in some areas of storytelling. For example, it functions best as a family-driven crime drama than the sci-fi action vehicle was originally marketed to be. If only the movie had just stuck to its strong suits.

At least Heroine already appears more focused and grounded than Kin. The film’s premise adequately hints at some kind of cultural-mindedness, and would work well even without the window dressing of complicated (and incomplete) sci-fi world-building. Casey’s upcoming writing ventures further indicate a burgeoning knack for entertaining action. He will work on the ninth installment of The Fast and the Furious series and the Chad Stahelski-directed adaptation, Kill or Be Killed. There could be hope for Heroine yet.

Really, Duke’s involvement is solid and that’s enough to satiate worries for the time being. Between his commitments with Marvel Studios, Jordan Peele’s sophomore picture Us, and now Heroine, Duke is certainly testing the waters of across genre limits as his big-screen filmography grows. Let’s just hope that Heroine will ultimately be worth it.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)