Winston Duke became a cultural fixture for his portrayal of M’Baku in Marvel’s Black Panther. The Trinibagonian-American actor is now educating the community about diabetes. He is one of the faces of the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) Everyday Reality campaign, a national dialogue about awareness and prevention of the disease.
November is American Diabetes Month, and more than 30 million people across the nation are living with the disease. The number of U.S. adults with diabetes has increased by nearly 300 percent, but there are measures to stop it from affecting millions more.
While on a film set in Boston, Duke spoke to EBONY.com about how diabetes is affecting his family and ways to stay on top of your health. He also discussed Us, the highly anticipated Black Panther sequel and the death of Marvel creator Stan Lee.
Why did you choose to be a part of this campaign?
Diabetes is something that’s always been very close to me. Most of my family, on my mother’s side especially, have diabetes, including my mom. My grandmother passed away from diabetes complications, and I lost two aunts, an uncle and multiple cousins to diabetes complications.
Becoming prediabetic is something that I’ve been fighting against and am hyperaware of. I’m always checking my body [and] going to get tested because I’m so afraid of the same creeping up on me. [Diabetes] is something that I know a lot about and I want to lend my voice because it’s one of those diseases that doesn’t get a lot of publicity. It’s a silent killer; just the idea that diabetes killed more people in the United States, more people than HIV and breast cancer combined, is a scary thought.
You’re from Trinidad and Tobago. My family is from Jamaica, and we have high instances of diabetes in our family also. Do you think that’s attributed to the West Indian diet?
I think a large part is diet but, unfortunately, it’s also hereditary. So African-Americans and people across the diaspora are 50 percent more likely to get diabetes. A big part are the high starches and a lot of foods that break down into sugar and high glucose-yielding food in your diet.
Your pancreas is what produces insulin, and when your pancreas becomes overworked, essentially, it might just stop producing insulin; that’s how you end up with Type 2 diabetes, from my understanding of it. A large part is diet that we are exposed to. Nutrition is a major factor in battling and becoming more aware of diabetes.
As a man with a muscular physique, what does your diet consist of as someone who’s trying to block prediabetes?
I’m always making sure that I’m not eating a lot of simple carbohydrates that break down into sugar. I [try to have] more complex carbohydrates, which burn slower and have a lot more fiber. I eat those when I know I have more of a physically strenuous day. I also know because I’m more predisposed to diabetes, I eat fairly often to prevent myself from having insulin spikes. In my experience, that promotes fat growth. All these things can lead into me becoming prediabetic. So, I try to control the foods that produce a lot of sugar and spike my blood sugar and make sure that I stay physically active. I try to keep my body pretty easy and keel.
What are some measures our readers can take to become more aware of diabetes and how it impacts the community?
November is the ADA’s Diabetes Month, and it’s really important and the perfect time for us to start engaging in conversation around the holiday. We’re going to be eating a lot of food for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It’s a great time to actually engage in these conversations around the dinner table when we’re eating [and] when we’re in community.
One thing that readers can do is they can go to the American Diabetes Association website and take the ADA risk test, [which] tells your risk level for having type 2 diabetes. It’s seven questions, and it will give you a number from one to 10 and your risk level.
If you score a five or higher, you are immediately prompted to go see a medical practitioner because you’re at risk for diabetes or prediabetes. With a score of nine or 10, it’s most likely that you already have diabetes and [need] to find out ways to get yourself healthy.
Another thing you can do is become an advocate. Essentially 50 percent of all Americans have diabetes or prediabetes. That’s 50 percent of the entire population of the whole country! Many of us are affected by it, and if we just shared our stories . . . we could start making sure that this doesn’t become something that so many people have to deal with.
It’s a testament to the person that you are that after a breakout role in Black Panther, you’re still taking time to advocate for something that gets swept under the rug. Would you be able to update fans on the status of the sequel?
I can’t tell you that [laughs].
Have you seen the script or met the cast?
Smooth, but come on–you know I can’t give you any juice. It was a nice push to tie in diabetes [laughs].
Do you have any comment on Stan Lee’s passing and his impact on people of color, specifically?
Lee gave me an inlet first as a child moving here as an immigrant. I was able to start learning about American culture from a position where I felt more accepted in literature than I sometimes did in everyday life. I learned a lot of strong lessons from this man’s works that I carried into [adulthood]. I’m becoming the man that you see today who’s fighting and advocating for people in my community. I learn from Spider-Man that “with great power comes great responsibility.” That’s essentially what I’m doing right now. I’m using the platform that I have to give back and try to work for other people and tried to assist.[Lee] created this universal narrative that you don’t have to be big enough [and] you don’t always have to be strong to do a superhero. I grew up loving Spider-Man because he was just a kid and had this whole city on his back. He had a whole community he was carrying, and he never forgot his aunt and his family. These are things that stayed with me for my entire life.
For this man to especially conceive of Wakanda, a world where Blackness can thrive and where Blackness can exist outside of paradigm to Whiteness, was revolutionary. It’s so revolutionary that it allowed for us to come to the opportunities that we just did with Black Panther.
For them to imagine a world that was Afrofuturist at its core during the 1960s, that’s amazing. To imagine a character like Luke Cage who is bulletproof at a time when Black bodies were completely subjected to all forms of violence and very vulnerable. To see the Black body as something that needed to be invulnerable to thrive; it’s revolutionary. Lee was before his time, but he was necessary for his time. His legacy is going to stand tall for eternity as a result.
Speaking of Wakanda, you and Lupita Nyong’o are starring in Jordan Peele’s Us. There are few details about the film. Is there anything you can tell us before the March 2019 release date?
I can tell you that we had a blast shooting it. It was challenging in all the right ways as artists. We were creatives and Jordan was the visionary. It just feels good to be part of what feels like a renaissance in Hollywood right now. The film is going to be exciting [and] it’s a very original idea. I’m excited about what’s to come with that movie.
What was it like playing alongside Lupita in a “social horror” film as opposed to the action of Black Panther?
It was great. We both transformed. It is going to be very refreshing because the two characters aren’t reminiscent of anything that you saw us in before. It’s not going to be anything like Wakanda. I don’t believe you’re going to see M’baku or Nakia.
Lupita was amazing. I’ve watched that woman do a lot of work in our past while she was studying. So, I know by the Lupita that people haven’t had an opportunity to see. I’ve seen a breath of work and a lot more variation from her than the public eye has seen.
It was really exciting and wonderful to get to perform with her. We have similar lexicons for how we approach our work. We were able to feel very safe around each other. We felt like we could play and play large and freely. I think that’s really going to translate it into something unforgettable.
You’re an advocate for the HeForShe movement with the U.N. What do you think are some actions that need to be taken toward gender equality around the world?
I think men need to join the conversation. Men hold a position of privilege and, by extension, power in this flawed and unequal system that we have. It’s time that men lend a hand to dismantle it because it would be a healthier world for all of us. We’re missing out on a lot of really wonderful, powerful things because women don’t get the opportunities to actualize and realize their full potential.
Women have been getting on the front lines and fighting for our rights. I’ve watched my mother and sister fight for me. The only reason I have a voice today is because of their fight. I was taught what being a healthy man looked like through essentially looking at the world through their lens.
It’s about time that men join the conversation. Men need to change the way they think, talk and stand up for things they know aren’t right. If you know a woman is being hurt or discussed in a way that is unhealthy, don’t be an innocent bystander. Stand up and say, “No, that’s unacceptable.”
I think, especially with the [Trump] administration, we’ve seen that a lot of people haven’t been held accountable. This president literally got away with saying that his deeply toxic, unhealthy language about women—grabbing them and kissing them against their will—was just locker-room talk.
I think we need to change the idea of what’s acceptable and change the idea of what’s acceptable to talk about and “locker rooms.” Men are the ones who need to change other men; it’s our responsibility. We need to be having these conversations with our brothers and letting them know that it’s not acceptable. We need to change the idea that that kind of language is acceptable in a certain place is a good enough reason to get away with this behavior.
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Christina Santi is a news and culture writer for EBONY.com. Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, she considers herself a well-read, not so traditional feminist with a heavy interest in music, fashion and pop culture. Christina currently lives in New York City, where she refers to her Cuban & Jamaican descent often while writing about her experiences as a first-generation Afro-Latinx in America. She also devotes time writing personalized reading material for her tutees and turning ideas into words for streetwear brand, PUER By Noel Bronson.