Black Panther and Giving Black Women Their Own Identity

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One of Marvel’s best-loved films, Black Panther, does a lot for the black community. But it does even more for black women and girls.

Director Ryan Coogler, who was listed under The Times’ 30 people under 30 who are changing the world, did wonders with his groundbreaking Black Panther blockbuster. Not only did it smash an incredible $1.344 billion in the box office but it changed the racial climate in the industry forever. Black Panther is the first Marvel film to star a predominantly black cast and have a black director. Thoughts began in 1992 but the film itself didn’t gain traction in the boardroom until 2005 when it was announced as one of the ten character-based Marvel films they intended to release.

The film follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who returns home after his father’s death to inherit the throne of the fictional African country, Wakanda. The beautiful blend of tribal culture and modern technology blew audiences away with many black critics applauding a Marvel film that didn’t just highlight and appreciate African culture but allowed it to be powerful and modern. However, what became a key point for many audiences, especially women, are the female characters.

Shuri (Letitia Wright):

T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, is one of Wakanda’s top scientists and engineers, working as head of the Science and Information Exchange. She is responsible for developing most of Wakanda’s famous technology from T’Challa’s infamous robo-suit to literal fighter jets. She has been confirmed to be the smartest person in all of the Marvel universe (yes, even more so than Tony Stark).

To see a woman, especially a black woman, in this position and be accepted by an entire country (and the Avengers) as the smartest person in the room means so much to so many people. “Her brother doesn’t look down on her like, ‘Ugh, you’re a kid, you can’t make a suit for me.’ He’s like, ‘No, this is your domain! Kill it! Do a great job and make sure I’m protected. And I will respect that.'”, Letitia Wright told Entertainment Weekly.

Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o):

Next up is spy and intelligence extraordinaire, Nakia. She’s powerful, independent, and tells T’Challa exactly where he can go when he tries to micromanage her job (James Bond move over). “Their personal motivations are what leads them forward. They are not eye candy,” Lupita Nyong’o told Entertainment Weekly. However, she did add: “Although, we do look pretty damn fly!” And they do! They haven’t been styled or costumed for the male gaze. They wear armour and have natural hair and practical muscle mass. It’s also so moving to see black women and girls shown as beautiful, as their own selves and in their own spaces.

Okoye (Danai Gurira):

Finally up is the warrior-hero (and my own personal hero), Okoye, head of Wakandan armed forces and General of the Dora Milaje, an elite group of female warriors pledged to defend the throne. Okoye’s character ran the risk of falling into the toxic “strong female” trope with her warrior class and battle-forged personality, but she was written beautifully. She struggles, in the film, with emotional conflict. She struggles between her loyalties to the throne, her king, the good of Wakanda, and her partner. To see a woman struggle on screen is a huge step forwards for more writers crafting female characters that are not only strong but complex and human. Here’s to Marvel learning that women, especially black women, need to be written better if they want to see the same level of turnout that Black Panther received.

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