A recent episode of Thirst Aid Kit put three actors in the hot seat: Stephan James, Bobby Cannavale, and Winston Duke. In this transcript, condensed and edited for clarity, Bim Adewunmi, Nichole Perkins, and special guest Dria Roland focus on Winston Duke, the Yale School of Drama–educated star of Us and Black Panther.
Bim Adewunmi: Regular Thirst Buckets who have been with us a while know how Nichole and I feel about Winston Duke. We ended up doing a video many, many a moon ago about his character in Black Panther because he played M’Baku, the leader of the Jabari. In that video we made a meal for our vegetarian king—I believe Nichole called it a hot rice dish for a hot king. And I think at the time I just groaned gently, but she wasn’t wrong. She wasn’t wrong.
Winston is an old favorite here at Thirst Aid Kit, and Dria, we are looking to you now to color in some of the excitement around Winston.
Nichole Perkins: I just love this scholarly approach.
Dria Roland: One day somebody said to me, “You have a type,” and I said, “No, I don’t.” And they said, “Your type is men who look like they like the dark meat on chicken.”
Adewunmi: Oh, my God!
Roland: Men who look like they like black-eyed peas and cornbread. And when she said it, I understood. I think you just mean I like a sturdy king. I like somebody I can build with. Somebody who looks like they got good sense but also like they can handle you. And I just think Winston Duke knows what to do with it, in every sense possible. Do you understand?
I’m meant to marry rich, first of all, rich and maybe famous, but I need him to be rich but like his heart is in the right place, and Winston just seems like all of this. These men seem like they fit that bill. You know? Like I can trust them. They go to work, they work hard, they mind their business, they make their money, they come on home like they’re going to be there. When I get off work, you know they’re going to be where they’re supposed to be, where they say they are. You understand?
Perkins: Yes, I feel you.
Roland: I just trust these [men], and Winston in particular. Physically, he’s my type.
Adewunmi: Explain the physical part there.
Roland: Did you see the picture of him on the horse Instagram?
Adewunmi: Yes, we did.
Perkins: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Dria, yes, we’ve seen it.
Adewunmi: It was like, wait, hold on, hold on a fucking minute. Hold on.
Roland: His thighs … they just offer me security in this cold, hard world. His thighs!
Perkins: Yes, yes, yes. His tall, broad shoulders. He takes his mother to all of his functions.
Roland: You know, sometimes that’s a cover-up. Michael B. Jordan used to do that, and it’s just ’cause you got too many hoes you can’t pick one, so you have to bring your mama. But Winston, I really believe he just wants his mother to share in the moment.
Perkins: Yeah. Well, I think that’s really sweet.
Adewunmi: Join us next week on Detective Dria Roland. She said that shit definitively, like “I’ve got the evidence. I have the receipts. This motherfucker is out there running games. This one loves his mother.”
Roland: That’s what I believe.
Adewunmi: No, it’s true. Lean into that truth.
Perkins: You know, you mentioned the sturdy feeling and the heart—
Adewunmi: “The sturdy feeling” is such a title of a pulp novel from the ’40s. “You’ve lost that sturdy feeling.”
Perkins: Maybe that’s the title of this episode, “The Sturdy Feeling.” Stephan James, his family is Jamaican. Then Bobby Cannavale is half-Cuban, and Winston Duke is from Trinidad and Tobago. So we’ve got a little Caribbean thread through all of this …
Roland: So that too is the image they craft in public. I know it has to be different from who they are when I get them alone, because they got that Caribbean inside like they crazy. Winston got some crazy, deep down inside, and I’m going to bring it out.
Perkins: You’re going to bring it out. You think you can handle the crazy? The same way that he can handle you?
Roland: Handle me? Who going to handle me? [laughs]
Adewunmi: Oh, my God. Get out.
Roland: Winston, let me tell you something. Because y’all remember after Black Panther he said how black women made him feel sexy for the first time in his life? Baby, that’s just the beginning of it. Listen, it gets better. The best thing you can do for yourself is let a black woman love you. I don’t want to disrespect his partner or whatever he has going on right now, but I’m just saying it gets greater, baby. Come to this side. We got you on a different—you know what I’m saying? It goes back to Africa, like it’s ancestral. The ancestors going to help me love you good. I got it.
Adewunmi: I can’t believe you are quoting ancestral thirst. That’s a first for Thirst Aid Kit, and I’m so grateful that it was you, Driadonna Roland, that brought that to Thirst Aid Kit. Only you.
Perkins: We were first largely introduced to Winston through Black Panther as M’Baku, and for me, I remember the first time that I went to see the film, he is who I came away thinking about.
Roland: Right. He stole the show.
Perkins: Yes. Which surprised me because, as everybody knows, that’s not typically my type. I don’t typically like a big strong-looking man like that.
Adewunmi: No, you love a french fry of a man.
Perkins: Yes. I like a little slim—a little tall drink of water. But I came out of that theater, and I was like, Who was that? He was on the throne. He was manspreading on that throne.
Adewunmi: The only acceptable manspreading. Everybody else, you’re not on a throne. You’re on the fucking 4 train. Close your legs.
Perkins: Yes. And there was this scene after Killmonger has come to Wakanda and done what he needed to do there. M’Baku is on the throne, and we’ve got Angela Bassett, we’ve got Letitia Wright there, and we’ve got Martin Freeman. He’s the only white man in this room. Everybody’s talking about Wakanda business. Martin’s character, Ross, tries to insert himself, and M’Baku was like, “No.”
Winston Duke [as M’Baku in a Black Panther scene]: You cannot talk! One more word and I will feed you to my children.
I’m kidding. We are vegetarians.
Perkins: I love that. It was just so funny, to see this little bit of humor from him, and that humor we ended up seeing more of in Us.
Roland: Well, we had the pleasure of seeing Us together, Nichole and I. And they said it was a scary movie, but when I saw those thighs, I said, “Everything is going to be all right here.”
Perkins: Everything is under control.
Adewunmi: “Wrap it up, guys. False alarm. It’s fine.”
Roland: We know that Winston went to Yale. He is classically trained, and I think he is definitely choosing roles, now that he has the privilege to do so, that show his humanity and don’t show him as this physically intimidating person whenever he has the opportunity, and he really showcased that in Us. He was corny. He was silly. He was sexy. He was, you know, all at once.
Perkins: He was a corny dad. He had all these dad jokes. A lot of people had problems with the fact that he was so corny. Once the Tethered came and he got beat up and he was crying out, exclaiming in pain, he was hurt, a lot of people were like, “He should just man up.” And I think it’s important to see this big man express pain, to see a black man be able to express pain because we, black people, are often not allowed to express pain. We are supposed to be stoic and just suffer. But to see this man who is the husband, the father in this family, he is hurt. His Tethered fucked him up. He should be able to express that. And the fact that people were upset with him giving voice to being fucked-up is just also a problem.
Roland: He’s also the same size as a Tethered for obvious reasons. So of course it’s not going to be like, “Oh, just man up and knock them out.” Like, no, that was a fair fight. Honestly it was unfair because the Tethered had been plotting for a long time.
Adewunmi: I didn’t watch Us, but I remember watching the trailer and he’s wearing the Howard sweatshirts—shout out to HBCUs. I just loved seeing this guy tell these jokes and be a little bit of a cornball. I do think that when we are thinking about the ways in which people are represented—because, let’s be real, representation as a thing is kind of played out—everyone’s, you know, “That’s not what we’re looking for.” But we do want to see some kind of accuracy. And I think so often, like you said, big black men are supposed to be impervious. Nothing ever fells them. They’re supposed to just power through.
Roland: They’re supposed to be super cool, and I like that he’s not cool. I know some uncool black people in real life.
Adewunmi: I’ve heard about them, so yeah, they’re real.
His filmography is still so short, but in that time he has done some excellent work with some really excellent people. I am super, super delighted that Jordan Peele did such a wonderful job of showcasing this, and Ryan Coogler did that with Black Panther and making M’Baku this incredible big-screen debut. Let’s not forget, M’Baku was the first time he was in a feature-length film, and he knocked it out of the park. Can you imagine coming into a Marvel Universe movie and stealing the show so comprehensively your first go-around? Shout out to you.
You know who did that last time? Oprah Winfrey with her debut in The Color Purple. When I tell you legacy, in terms of people who come out on their first go, it’s the scene-stealing, bigger-than-life performance. M’Baku. You’re looking at him, and like Nichole said, you leave and you’re like, Who the hell is that guy?
Adewunmi: That’s power.