As much as the Black Panther comics have been hailed as introducing the first black superhero in mainstream American comics, their transition to the screen hasn’t arrived without their own issues.
Specifically, in the villain M’Baku, referred to as Man-Ape and shown dressed in a suit styled to look like a gorilla; he headed up the anti-technology extremist group the White Gorilla Cult, intent on bringing down the Wakandan monarchy and their futuristic society.
In the comics, Wakandans worship a variety of deities, with the White Gorilla Cult pledging their allegiance to a Wakandan Gorilla Deity, gaining their powers through bathing in white gorilla blood and eating white gorilla flesh. When it came to Marvel bringing Black Panther to the big screen, it was decided not to entirely abandon M’Baku as a villain, but to drop the ‘Man-Ape’ moniker and gorilla suit to avoid any racial implications of the character.
“We don’t call him Man-Ape,” executive producer Nate Moore told Entertainment Weekly. “We do call him M’Baku. Having a black character dress up as an ape, I think there’s a lot of racial implications that don’t sit well, if done wrong. But the idea that they worship the gorilla gods is interesting because it’s a movie about the Black Panther who, himself, is a sort of deity in his own right.”
The character’s costume is instead fashioned with elements of fur on the arms and legs, with a chest-plate that hints at the gorilla being symbolic of his tribe. M’Baku is played by Winston Duke in the film, and poses just as serious a threat to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman)’s position as the nation’s new king. “You learn that M’Baku is essentially the head of the religious minority in Wakanda and we thought that was interesting,” Moore said. “Wakanda is not a monolithic place. They have a lot of different factions.”
“In M’Baku’s worldview, T’Chaka made a huge mistake going to the U.N.,” he added. “‘We should never engage with the outside world. That’s a terrible mistake. And if his son is anything like his father, I don’t support him being on the throne.’ Politically, he just has different ideology. Man-Ape is a problematic character for a lot of reasons, but the idea behind Man-Ape we thought was really fascinating. It’s a line I think we’re walking, and hopefully walking successfully.”