Dorothy Steel demonstrated that it’s never too late to follow a dream. Born in 1926, she was 88 years old when she landed her first acting role, launching a career that would soon lead to her feature film debut as an elder of the Merchant Tribe in 2018's Black Panther.
Steel was reprising her character for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever when Marvel Studios reportedly flew her from the Atlanta-based production to be with family in her birthplace of Detroit. She died at her home Friday morning at age 95, her agent, Cindy Butler of iSubmit Talent confirmed to People magazine, noting that Steel had predicted the sequel would be her “last role.” A cause of death was not given.
“It was just amazing, it truly was,” Steel told Atlanta’s WSB-TV (Channel 2) in 2018 of landing a role in the record-breaking superhero blockbuster. “If anyone would have told me I would be an actor, I would’ve said you got to be out of your mind.”
As she told Steve Harvey that same year, her role in Black Panther almost didn’t happen, as she couldn’t imagine appearing in a “comic strip at [her] age.” However, at the urging of her grandson, Steel auditioned, telling Harvey (h/t People):
“He said, ‘Grandma, you always talk about stepping out onto nothing, letting your faith take you there. Now how come you don’t do it yourself’... He said, ‘Either you’re gonna step out there or you’re gonna shut up.’”
Studying Nelson Mandela’s speech patterns on her computer to “to find the right tone” (h/t People), Steel told WSB-TV the Black Panther casting team reached out an hour after she’d sent off her audition tape. As fans worldwide can attest, the film would prove to be pivotal. People reports Steel told Harvey it “makes me feel really good to be a part of something...Black,” adding, “Wakanda forever.”
More from WSB-TV:
Steel said she became the “grandmother” on the set of ‘Black Panther,’ which she said is not just a movie but a movement.
“We were one big melting pot of black people and we knew we were doing something that had never been done before. Ya know?” she said.
Steel said the women of Wakanda ruled ‘Black Panther.’
“We have power and it’s time for us to step up and take over. That’s what we have to do and take over,” she said.
Steel also reflected on her relationship with the film’s lead, Chadwick Boseman, who died from colon cancer in 2020, telling WSB-TV:
“Chadwick the King. Every day, he would make sure if I was on the set, he would come by and make sure he gave me a big old hug and kiss.”
In addition to Black Panther, Steel garnered other onscreen credits, appearing in the 2017 independent film Daisy Winters as well as subsequent feature films Poms, and Jumanji: The Next Level. She also appeared on Bounce TV’s Saints & Sinners and BET’s The Oval.
It was an admirable trajectory to an unexpected and all-too-brief career, but “she went out strong,” said Butler.
Rest in power, Dorothy Steel. Wakanda Forever.