The Winston Duke Era Begins Now
A handful of scenes in 2018’s Black Panther made him an overnight celebrity. As he returns with a bigger role in Wakanda Forever, the soulful and cerebral star is preparing for a new level of fame, mourning the loss of his closest confidante—his mother, Mama Coco—and searching for a deeper meaning in every aspect of his life.
wanted him to be a pastor. In one of our first conversations, he told me she was still holding out hope, imitating her thick Tobagonian accent: “‘Maybe you’ll still become a preacha!’” He playacts his loving but firm rebuff: “Lady,” he laughs, “give it up!”
For a certain kind of mother, and a certain kind of upbringing, a job in the church is the highest calling. That Duke’s older sister graduated from high school early and eventually became an accomplished doctor didn’t really ease the pressure, either.
Duke, thirty-six, is no man of the cloth. But he has a creation myth to share when I arrive at the Shulamit Nazarian gallery in Los Angeles on a hot, sunny Tuesday afternoon. On display are fifteen works from the artist Trenton Doyle Hancock, who dreams up alter egos, villains, cartoonish Klansmen, and Technicolor creatures, conjuring a world from inspiration that’s part autobiography and part fantasy.
There’s something in these provocative pieces that captivates Duke. He asks the gallerist to pull a small comic—a primer on Hancock’s work—for me to look over. The last time he was here, the gallerist replies, Duke received their final copy. So he says he’ll educate me himself, opening a book of the artist’s materials: “These,” Duke points at two ink-and-paint-drawn figures, “are the father and mother of pretty much everything in his world. The father had an affair with the flowers. He—”
The gallerist jumps in: “He masturbated in a field of flowers.”
A few weeks earlier, Duke spent two hours walking through the gallery accompanied by Hancock and his wife, the artist JooYoung Choi. “He spoke about the work almost as if he was in the studio with me when I made it,” Hancock tells me later. “He was able to speak about a layer of the work that I normally don’t get to talk about with people.”
Duke and I pause in front of one of his favorite pieces. It’s from a series by Hancock inspired by the work of Canadian American painter Philip Guston, who portrayed Klansmen in mundane contexts, such as riding around in a car smoking. Hancock riffs on the theme, depicting himself holding out a Klansman’s hood to his own alter ego, Torpedoboy. Instead of featuring a mythic battle of epic proportions—like, say, a Marvel movie—the series shows Hancock trying to goad Torpedoboy into stepping on a stool to change a light bulb, with the intention of slipping a noose over him. Duke likes the way you can only see the scene clearly head-on. From any other angle, the work looks like a wall of shaggy fur with random negative space.
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