Black Panther had the highest of expectations to fulfil. It promised to be the superhero movie which would give well-deserved screen time to people of colour who were constantly overlooked in the past. Yet it still had to live up to its forefathers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and explore a badass character only seen once before in the MCU. In addition to this, Black Panther manages to include several well-rounded female personalities, which I will explore in this post.
I am not a black person, and so in this piece, I want to avoid making any judgements on how well the film tackled the issue of colour. Of course, the issues I want to discuss are to do with the representation of women in this film. I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm that, as a white woman, my life has been comparatively easy because of my skin colour. I do not aim or hope to speak for black women and I appreciate I don’t have their perspective. I will, therefore, be sticking exclusively to the issue of gender in this blog post.
I honestly have next to no qualms with this film in terms of gender. It seems that in Wakanda, technology is not the only thing that has advanced; so too has its gender politics. Women hold an important place in society, and while the current Black Panther (T’Challa) himself is a man, the advisors and warriors surrounding him are women almost more powerful than he himself. Wakanda primarily worships a Goddess and we are told through T’Challa’s travels to the land of the dead that some of the previous Black Panthers have been women.
Okoye, for example – the head of the all-female special forces, Dora Milaje, saves T’Challa’s skin on multiple occasions. She is the perfect example of a woman in a superhero movie who owns her femininity on her own terms. She throws off her wig as soon as their disguise is discovered, proudly displaying her shaved head which nevertheless makes her no less of a woman. Her bold characterisation goes so much further than just a haircut, however. To reduce it to such would be an insult to her nerve, bravery, quick wit and loyalty to Wakanda. When asked if she would kill her husband in order to protect the throne, she answers, “without question”. Now let me ask you this – when was the last time you heard of a female character unquestionably rejecting the man in her life in order to stand strong for what she believes in? It doesn’t happen often in Hollywood, less often still in superhero movies. Allow me to remind you of the messy ending to Wonder Woman, which I discussed in my very first review. Diana is only able to defeat the power of Ares once she has seen Steve (her love interest) sacrifice himself and gets royally pissed off because of it. Whilst I overall thought Wonder Woman was worth watching, this sort of addition does *wonders* (sorry) to undermine any feminist message that the film achieved. Okoye, with these two words, does more than Wonder Woman did in its entirety to include well-rounded female characters.
Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest, is another example of a woman who follows her own initiative over the temptation of her lover, choosing to leave Wakanda in favour of helping women in other countries around the world. Her character is defined as the love interest in the film but is not confined to the usual Hollywood trope of love interest as such. She has her own goals throughout the film and is a character in her own right, not someone relying on T’Challa to have any sort of relevance.
I’ve got to make a special mention, of course, for Shuri, who steals the show completely in every scene in which she appears. The brains behind every operation, Letitia Wright (her actress), describes Shuri as even smarter than Tony Stark and has a fashion sense to match. Shuri is everything a young girl can and should aspire to be – confident, smart, beautiful (inside and out) and fearless. She is a wonderful addition to the film, providing comic relief and heartfelt emotion in equal measures, along with Ramonda, the Queen Mother.
Black Panther, on the whole, is one of the most brilliant films made in recent years – forget about superhero movies specifically. I can barely fault it in general, but especially when it comes to its representation of female characters, Black Panther does not fall short. I truly hope that Marvel continues to do such an impressive job in future films and that other film studios do the same.