By Je’Don Holloway Talley
Sybella Inman, 8, who is on the honor roll at Birmingham’s EPIC Elementary, appears about 30 minutes into the film in a scene where T’Challa, the main character, is lying in the dirt. Sybella known as Bella, said she was excited about securing the role of an orphan in the movie.
“I think acting is fun and cool and awesome,” Sybella told ABC 33/40 TV.
“She thought it was pretty cool to talk to (main character) Chadwick Boseman and work with Forest Whitaker,” said K’la, Inman’s mother.
When Sybella was six, her mom had professional headshots taken. “We’ve done some workshops that she’s done really, really well in,” K’la said. “She did a workshop with Alpha Tyler, one of Tyler Perry’s casting agents.”
K’la, who has done some acting, almost missed an opportunity to cast her daughter for the film. Kl’a has casting calls come to her phone and when she saw one for “Black Panther” she almost discarded it until saw the movie was casting for Bella’s age range.
As the family arrived at church that particular day for Sunday morning service “my husband, Kalep, asked what I was doing because I had my head in my phone, and I told him ‘I was trying to apply for casting for some movie named Black Panther’ and he says, ‘Oh, that’s a black superhero, a Marvel character, you should finish that.’
Two weeks later K’la received an email while renting a car. “[I] was talking to the clerk, and looked down at the email and started screaming . . . I dropped my phone.”
Last March, Sybella and mom set out for Pinewood Studios, in Atlanta, GA to film her scenes.
Sybella’s painted face is the only orphan to be shown close up in the scene. “She actually got to film with Chadwick Boseman [Black Panther] and Forest Whitaker [Zuri] in the scene where they were doing the burial rite,” her mom said.
Sybella learned about hard work early. “They shot both her scenes the same day. Including hair and makeup, she had an 11-hour day,” K’la said.
K’la had her brush with A-list actor Forest Whitaker, as well. “I was actually sitting right next to him for a while before noticing I was barely two feet away from him,” K’la said. “That was pretty cool.”
Asked what Sybella was most excited about on set, her mom said, “food.”
“She was … hungry” K’la laughed. “On movie sets they always have what they call a ‘crafting table’, and their spread was pretty impressive. They actually gave us lobster … which is unheard of. But, I guess with a budget that big ($200 million). She was running over there for cakes and cookies, juices, and whatnot every chance she could.”
While Bella doesn’t talk in the movie, she loves the Hollywood glitz and glam.
“It got to be different and I like makeup being on my face,” Bella said. “It makes your face all shiny and glittery.”
Bella has been acting since the age of 6, but this is her first film role. Bella’s mom submitted her daughter for the role after learning about the opportunity in a casting email. “She really can act,” her mother said. “She can cry on demand.”
Along with working with other new actors, she also met the lead actor, Chadwick Boseman. He plays the comic book character her mother knew little about.
The Inman family is proud to have their daughter appear with a cast that looks like her. “I think it’s important,” K’la said. “Typically that doesn’t happen. I mean you look at Disney princesses, Barbie dolls, it’s not always representing everyone across the board.”
The film has a black director and an all-black cast and is set in Africa.
Word spread quickly in school that Bella was in the movie. “It was crazy at school – I had to do this,” that’s when she puts her fingers in her ears and laughs. “At P.E., I had to run away.”
Besides acting Bella likes to do everything – play soccer, model and being creative,” said her mother. “She likes to make her own makeup. She paints. She dances. And she likes to make slime.”
Like everyone else, the Inman family was blown away by the film’s debut. “She was pretty impressed by how it all came together,” Kl’a said of her daughter. She knew she was . . . inside a studio with a ton of graphs and stuff all over the floor, and the way the graphics brought it all together was amazing to her.”
During the Birmingham City Council meeting on Tuesday Mayor Randall L. Woodfin congratulated Bella for her role.
“The City of Birmingham family is very proud of your accomplishments, and we celebrate your success,” Woodfin said. “Continue to pursue your dreams and strive for ambitious goals.”
ABC 33/40 contributed to this report