Dorothy Steel, whose big-screen career started late, dies at 95


Dorothy Steel was 90 years old and had been acting professionally for just over a year when her agent asked her in late 2016 if she wanted to audition for a role in “Black Panther,” the Marvel Studios film set in the Fantastic Nation. African woman from Wakanda.

She was uncertain. So she said no.

“I said, ‘There’s no way I’m in a comic book at my age,'” she recalls telling her agent, Cindy Butler, when she appeared on Steve Harvey’s television show in 2018. “But she’s very persistent. I have to give him credit. She said, “Miss Dorothy, you can do it. “

She relented after receiving an additional push from her grandson, Niles Wardell.

“She was on the fence about it,” Mr. Wardell said in a telephone interview, “and when she brought it to my attention, I said,“ Grandma, you always talk about doing show faith and do the things you love. This is your opportunity.

He added, “She wasn’t so worried that it was a comic book movie, but that the role was too big for her.”

Prior to the audition, Ms Steel studied videos of Nelson Mandela on YouTube to help him develop a believable accent. She then auditioned on video for the role of a tribal leader, reading the lines of the script. Ms Butler emailed the video to Sarah Finn, the film’s casting director, who quickly agreed to hire her.

“We found it late in the process,” Ms Finn said over the phone. “She was amazing. As soon as we saw her, we wanted her. She had incredible wit, warmth, humor and intelligence. We were delighted to launch it.

She was in a few scenes but only said one line, to T’Challa, the king of Wakanda and the main character of the film, played by Chadwick Boseman: “Wakanda doesn’t need a warrior in this. moment. We need a king.

Ms. Steel died on Oct. 14 in a Detroit hospital aged 95. She had completed most of her filming for the “Black Panther” sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, when she fell ill. She was brought back by Marvel to Detroit, where she had lived for a year.

Her grandson, her only immediate survivor, confirmed the death.

Dorothy May Steel was born February 23, 1926 in Flint, Michigan. She worked for many years as a Senior Revenue Officer for the Internal Revenue Service in Detroit. His marriage to Warren Wardell ended with his death.

After retiring in 1984, she lived for 20 years in the Caribbean, in St. Croix, before moving to Atlanta to be closer to her grandson and son, Scott, who died in 2018.

Ms. Steel began performing in her 80s in the annual plays staged at the Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. She had never performed before “and wanted to try something new to see if she could do it,” said Elaine Jackson, the former director of the center, who wrote the plays, including one in which Ms. Steel performed. teenage girl.

Ms Butler said that while Ms Steel played the voice of God in one of the plays, Greg Alan Williams, actor and drama teacher, was in attendance and was impressed enough to give her free lessons. Another student, a client of Ms. Butler, suggested that Ms. Steel sign with Ms. Butler.

“So she came over one day and I said, ‘Spend a day with me,’” Ms. Butler said. “After this meeting, I had to sign it. She was going to work.

Within weeks, Ms. Butler had found work for Ms. Steel. It was her presence, Ms. Butler said, that got her jobs.

“When she spoke, she spoke with authority,” she said. “His voice was strong. And at her age, she could memorize the lines with no problem.

Ms. Steel credits also include “Merry Christmas, Baby” (2016), a TV movie; “Daisy Winters” (2017), a feature film; and four episodes of the prime-time television soap “Saints & Sinners” in 2016, as well as a commercial for the South Carolina Lottery and a public service announcement for the DeKalb County Board of Health.

The game provided him with a “protective cabin”, Ms Steel told the Washington Post in 2018. “You are protected from the world,” she said. “And this is the first time in my life that I have felt absolutely safe.”

On the set of “Black Panther,” she recalls, she became a grandmother’s presence for the cast, and every day she received a hug and kiss from Mr. Boseman, who died in 2020.

“We were a great melting pot of blacks, and we knew we were doing something special that had never been done before,” Ms Steel told WSB-TV in Atlanta in 2018. “You know?”

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