When Kaeche Liburd was growing up on St. Thomas she never aspired to be a superhero, but she did get to be one recently for a bit in the movie “Endgame: Avengers,” the biggest box office hit of the year.
Liburd was the body double for Tony-nominated playwright Danai Gurira. Gurira plays Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces unit in the fictional nation of Wakanda in the Avengers films.
Growing up, Liburd’s superheroes were the women in her community and in particular her neighborhood on Freedom Street in Frydenhoj. She calls the women who influenced her and helped along the way the “grandma gang.” She added they were on a mission and would move mountains for her.
“In childhood I was more observant of the women around me,” Liburd said. “They were typically hard workers who see goals set and reached. And they see things possible and make it probable. I was introduced to the American dream as an attainable goal.”
Liburd’s goal was a career in medical science and helping people in her community to maintain healthy lifestyles. As a mathlete since elementary school Liburd found fun in math and science.
She attended Joseph Gomez Elementary, Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High School, and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. She gives credit to teachers and guidance counselors at those schools who gave her support and positive words of encouragement.
“I had a lot of guidance along the way,” Liburd said.
The arts were always fun and functional Liburd said. “The really important things were math and science,” Liburd added. “I played at art.”
As a youngster Liburd participated in communication arts showcase competitions. She sang in the church youth choir, joined the MACISLYN Bamboula dance company, took piano lessons, and played the saxophone in band.
While participating in the MACISLYN Bamboula dance company Liburd had the opportunity to perform in the St. Thomas Carnival, the St. Croix Agriculture Fair and Emancipation Day events on St. John.
“The dance company gave me confidence outside my intelligence,” Liburd said. “I worked my way up to becoming a seasoned performer.”
At Ivanna Eudora Kean she was a cheerleader and played volleyball. She said playing volleyball taught her to work with other people and developed her eye-hand coordination.
Liburd said her mother Ermine Liburd, a chef at the Westin St. John Resort, was an inspiration to her.
“She worked hard and managed to send her three children to college,” Liburd said. She added her mother created the environment and provided the tools for exposure to the arts.
“The arts were a backdrop to my life and career until I made them my career focus,” Liburd said. “My mom had no idea I wanted to be an actor. She gave her children options and out of that came opportunities.”
Liburd was awarded scholarships and received financial help from people who cared deeply about enabling her to move to California at 17 to attend Stanford University. She said she got the courage to go so far away from home for college from traveling with her mother.
She enrolled in the fall of 2001, majoring in biomechanical engineering, later switching to human biology. After graduating from Stanford, she traveled, did diabetes research, worked in the White House Office of Health, and worked on the 2008 Obama campaign in Ohio and Michigan.
Liburd went on to do graduate work in epigenetics at Columbia University’s school of public health.
“The arts always accompanied me, with me earning spots on dance teams in both undergraduate and graduate school,” Liburd said. Liburd does modern, Afro-Brazilian, and Hip-Hop dance. She also practices martial arts.
After the early deaths of her sister and a couple friends she realized life was too short to work at unfulfilling jobs. She added that the weather in New York wasn’t in tune with a woman from the Virgin Islands.
Ultimately, she made a career change to acting and moved to Los Angeles, where she could audition for parts and learn more about acting. She landed jobs as the victim of a home-barbershop mishap in a fictionalized “Judge Judy” rip-off; an appearance in an Ariana Grande music video; a dancer in Jodie Foster’s 2016 film, “Money Monster.”
In January she got the casting call from her agent for the body double for Okoye the Warrior Queen of Wakanda. She was chosen for the double and to do photos of the Warrior Queen. Body doubles play parts that leading actors can’t or don’t want to do and the doubles are edited in. A body double actually plays the actor.
She ended up as a part of the reshoot teams. She was on the set for one day beginning at 4:30 a.m. Liburd said her makeup took three and a half hours, which included a lot of painstaking details keeping everything precise.
“My main job was not letting a drop of rain on my head and ruining my makeup,” Liburd said with a chuckle.
The costume for Okoye fit her like a second skin, just like it was made for her.
“Thank God for Ruth E. Carter,” Liburd said of the costume designer who won an Academy Award for her work on “Black Panther.” “It was like it was made for my body.”
To learn to imitate Gurira, she repeatedly watched clips of the actress in “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” Liburd practiced all her motions and movements, using a broomstick for a spear. When she was given Okoye’s vibranium spear, a weapon that according to the lore of “Black Panther” grows stronger by absorbing the energy around it, she said she felt like a warrior queen.
Liburd said she is convinced it was her running into battle in a scene in the “Endgame” movie.
Liburd, 35 years-old, said she felt like a kid again filled with excitement when the movie premiered. She admitted she delayed watching it thinking “am I in or out.”
Having played the part of a double doesn’t guarantee her a position in the future as a double for Gurira. Liburd added it all depends on the directors.
“I hope the directors will have the same impression of me,” Liburd said. “I’m definitely open to having a role in “Black Panther 2” It would be a dream of mine to be a speaking member of the cast.”
Liburd says she does get homesick for St. Thomas and spending time with her mother. Last time she was home was during Hurricane Irma in 2017. She looks forward to getting back to the islands for the holidays and indulging in her favorite foods, like salt fish and dumplings.
“I now indulge in hearing and sharing stories, especially amplifying voices,” Liburd said. “I’m now a writer/actor/host with the latest productions being my third and most recent book “Fill Yourself Up.”
Liburd is also producing a feature documentary film entitled “I Am the Diaspora: A Reintroduction to Black History.” Details are online here.
She also hosts the “World of Women Today” Talk Show. The recordings are online at Blog Talk Radio.