As first reported by Deadline, the incredible real-life story of the only person of non-Japanese heritage to ever become a samurai has finally found its star in Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman. The intriguing project has been in production for a while but will now be moving forward with Boseman as the unique warrior who (some historians believe) hailed from Portuguese Mozambique.
Yasuke’s story is an utterly singular: a young African man was believed to have been enslaved by Jesuits and taken to Japan by the slaver and missionary Alessandro Valignano in 1579. There he met the warlord Obe Nobunaga and later entered into his service. During his time in Japan he became Nobunaga’s retainer, weapon bearer, bodyguard, and eventually earned the title of samurai. The legendary warrior has been well-known throughout Japan for the last four centuries, but this will likely be the first time that most Westerners have heard about his story.
Not only was Yasuke a talented fighter, but due to his enslavement, he was taken all over the world and could speak many languages by the time he reached Japan. During his time there, he became fluent in Japanese and grew to be a close confidante of Nobunaga, the head of one of the most powerful clans in the country. Yasuke’s time as a samurai did not last for long as Nobunaga was overthrown soon after, but the fate of the first African samurai is widely unknown, though it is thought that he survived the coup and returned to the service of the Jesuits.
Deadline’s description of the movie is a streamlined version of those events that eradicates some of the less clear-cut parts of Yasuke’s legend (like the lack of clarity over his birthplace, which may have been Ethiopia, South Sudan, or Europe, and the fact that there were possibly other African people in Japan prior to Yasuke, some of whom may have also been revered warriors). Deadline’s write-up also focuses on Yasuke’s relationship with Nobunaga. “The first black man to set foot on Japanese soil, Yasuke’s arrival aroused the interest of Nobunaga, a ruthless warlord seeking to unite the fractured country under his banner. A complex relationship developed between the two men as Yasuke earned Nobunaga’s friendship, respect–and ultimately, the honor, swords, and title of samurai.”
Boseman, who will also be producing the project, told Deadline that “the legend of Yasuke is one of history’s best-kept secrets, the only person of non-Asian origin to become a samurai. That’s not just an action movie, that’s a cultural event, an exchange, and I am excited to be part of it.” It’ll be incredibly exciting to see where this movie goes, especially as it’s rare to have a Hollywood project that solely centers people of color, let alone the world’s first black samurai!