The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira talks about writing and representation

Michonne - season 9 episode 6 of The Walking Dead - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Michonne - season 9 episode 6 of The Walking Dead - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

Dania Gurira the actress had had a year full of fierce performances but Danai Gurira the writer isn’t holding back either.

In a great in-depth interview for the LA Times Danai Gurira talked about her writing and representation in media as well as her busy acting schedule. Now that Andrew Lincoln has moved on to The Walking Dead films Danai has taken on an even bigger role on The Walking Dead as Michonne keeps Alexandria safe and raises both Judith and RJ. And judging by the clues given in season 9A and the interactions between Michonne and members of the other communities there will be some intense backstory coming about what happened between Michonne, Maggie, and the communities during the time jump.

But even though Dania is continuing to be a strong presence on The Walking Dead and probably reprising her role as Okoye in the next Avengers film as well as taking on a slew of charitable work like continuing to work with Almasi Arts and serving as a Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women  she is also committed to continuing to write stories for the stage and the screen. Her plays Eclipsed, The Convert, and Familiar have been praised by audiences and critics for their deft storytelling and representation of the voices of characters, largely women, whose stories tend to go unnoticed.

Two of her plays are currently running or will soon be running in the US and abroad. The Convert is running now in London with Black Panther star Letitia Wright in the lead role. Familiar is playing now in Chicago and at the end of January will open in San Diego. In the interview she says that currently she’s writing for the screen and is focusing her efforts on that medium.

Why Representation In All Media Formats Matters So Much

The interview takes a deep dive into issues of representation and race in media and it’s definitely worth reading. In one part of the interview Danai was asked,” Do you remember feeling reflected in movies, TV and theater as a kid?” and she said,

"“No, I did not feel like I was being reflected. As a kid, that’s when you figure out how you envision yourself. You see yourself as Other as a child because you don’t have the vocabulary nor the worldview or the understanding of global history and all the dynamics of racial oppression to understand that it’s not as it should be. So as a child, you’re really being indoctrinated with the idea that you’re not it. You’re not of the right thing, and these are the people who are. And that’s what’s really scary about not giving children representation. They absorb those images. But it’s so unnecessary. We don’t actually have to put children through that. It’s really easy to give them representations of self, whatever color they are.”"

Diversity and representation have been at the forefront of media criticisms in the last year or so due to a raising cultural awareness of the damage done by lack of diverse representation in mediums like TV and films that indelibly shape cultural attitudes and awareness.

The Walking Dead And Representation

There have been criticisms of The Walking Dead’s diversity but when it comes to genre TV The Walking Dead has a solid track record for having a diverse cast. The show has always portrayed women as complex characters and not as damsels in distress or eye candy. Every season of The Walking Dead has passed The Bechdel Test, which is used a measure of the representation of women in fiction. The criteria for The Bechdel Test is that:

1.       There must be two named female characters

2.       Those characters have to have at least one conversation

3.       That conversation must not be about a man

As you can see that’s not a particularly high standard, and yet you’d be amazed at how many works of fiction, including TV shows, fail that test.

The Walking Dead has many strong female characters and in 9B will have the first female villain when Alpha, the leader of The Whisperers, arrives.  Considering that Danai has shaped Michonne into one of the strongest characters on TWD, male or female, it’s not a surprise that she would continue to use her voice and her platform to raise awareness for and continue to tell the stories of underrepresented women.

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Read the entire interview because it’s a great read, and get ready for the fierce women of The Walking Dead to come together to face off against Alpha when The Walking Dead returns in February.