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Black Panther’s Danai Gurira on being a Proud Zimerican

Black Panther's Danai Gurira on being a Proud Zimerican
Danai Gurira

By Erickka Sy Savané

One thing we can say about the film Black Panther (now the #1 movie in the WORLD) is that it’s bridging a long over-due gap between Africans and African Americans. To see the movie is to be proud of where we come from and that’s just facts. As an African American woman who grew up with an affinity for the continent, and is raising two little girls with my hubby from Cote D’Ivoire, it’s a world that has always held interest for me. So when I stumbled across an article in this month’s Glamour magazine where Black Panther star Danai Gurira talks about what it means to be “Zimerican” (she was born in Grinnel, Iowa to Zimbabwean parents and moved to Zimbabwe when she was around 6 or 7 years old), I was all ears. Here are a few things that stuck out from her essay that old fans (Walking Dead is still her day gig) and new fans, will enjoy!

Black Panther's Danai Gurira on being a Proud Zimerican
Danai shines in this month’s Glamour mag! 

Danai says that she didn’t find out that her real name was Danai, which means “to be in love” or “to love one another” in her parent’s native Shona language, until she was five years old. Before then, she’d only been called by her nickname Dede. Of this discovery she says,

“A typical little girl with cool cred to uphold, I wasn’t too into this other name. It sounded weird the way my mom pronounced it, her African cadences freely flowing, her tongue pulled to the back roof of her mouth as she said the first syllable like a d, but not really, her mouth wide as she pronounced the a and I at the end of this strange new designation.” 

So like most kids who want to fit in, Danai wasn’t having any of it and kept Dede as her name of choice. It wasn’t until she and her family moved to Zimbabwe a year later that Dede now became the weird name. On top of that, as Danai grew into adolescence and began reading about the likes of Toni Morrison, Alex Haley, James Baldwin, MLK and Malcolm X, a consciousness started to build and along with it came a new desire… 

“I started to connect the dots around why I was rejecting my people’s cultural markers and the dominating effects of Eurocentric culture. All of a sudden I needed to lay claim to what folks had fought and died for me to have- the freedom to speak my own language, my own name.” 

From then on, Dede would insist on being called Danai, and a confidence in her authentic self was born. She says that embracing her real name has been a major influence on her life and career from the stories she tells (like her Tony-nominated Broadway hit play Eclipsed), the characters she plays (like her star turn as a general in an African King’s army in Black Panther), and her activism (Danai co-founded the nonprofit Almasi Arts, a Zimbabwean American dramatic arts collaborative). 

“The irony that American greats helped bring me to this initial awakening doesn’t go unnoticed by me. It’s what makes me what I am- Zimerican, I call it. Both Zimbabwean and America resonate in me in equally significant parts and can’t be extricated from each other. Right now both countries sit at defining moments: America faces political division and a crises of leadership, and Zimbabwe is finding its footing in a transition of power after decades under one man’s rule. I’ve never felt the weight of my biculturalism more intensely. All I know to do is remember who I am and be ready to participate, as my full self: Danai Jekesai Gurira- a Zimerican.”

Do you claim all parts of your heritage?
Black Panther's Danai Gurira on being a Proud Zimerican
Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in,,, and more. When she’s not writing…wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or

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