Dorothy Steel’s mind was made up. She had only been acting for three years and didn’t want to audition for some “comic strip” movie she had never heard of. At 91, Steel told herself there was no way she could learn how to speak with an African accent that the role required.
In late November 2016, Steel asked her agent to kindly decline the invitation, and went about her day.
When her 26-year-old grandson, Niles Wardell, called, Steel casually mentioned the offer. Wardell was stunned. This is not just comics, he told his grandmother, this is “Black Panther.” This is a big deal. When she still wasn’t convinced, he decided to turn the tables on the woman who has been his source of wisdom. “My grandson said to me, ‘You’re always talking about stepping out on faith. I either want you to man up or shut up,’ ” Steel recalled, laughing at the memory.
Steel would get another audition and took the chance. And now millions of people worldwide have seen her in the role of a merchant tribe elder in the 14th-highest grossing movie of all time.
At 92, Steel has become a celebrity in ways she couldn’t have imagined even a year ago. Anytime she steps outside in College Park, Ga., where she lives, she is greeted with fans asking for a selfie or autograph.
Steel’s scene-stealing lines in the film — delivered in a convincing South African accent — have inspired people that it’s never too late to try new things. “Hopefully, somebody who at 55 or 60 has decided, ‘This is all I can do,’ they will realize they have 35 more years to get things together,” Steel said. “Start now. It’s never too late. … Keep your mind open and keep faith in yourself that you can do this thing. All you have to do is step out there.”