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Fierce and Feminine: Women of ‘Black Panther’

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Believe the hype, all of it. Marvel Comic’s “Black Panther” is one of its best superhero films. It’s also one of its most unique, and not because it’s the first African American superhero film. This distinction, at least in our estimation as a publication, is due to the largely female supporting cast that typified anything but the “damsel in distress” caricature so often peddled in these types of films.

Superman, for instance, had to save Lois Lane, who constantly provided him reasons to come to her aid. In Spiderman, Peter Parker’s love interest, Mary Jane, was the impetus for many of his conflicts. In Black Panther, the women don’t need anyone to save them; they are the saviors. In fact, when the movie opens, the newly installed Wakandan king, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), goes on a solo mission to “rescue” his love interest, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).  She is among a group of women being trafficked.

L-R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) in Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’

T’Challa’s badass female general, Okoye (Danai Gurira), asks to accompany him, but he refuses, saying he can handle it alone. In fighting to free Nakia, it turns out that the new king does unexpectedly need Okoye. When the king, who is the Black Panther, arrives, Nakia expresses her annoyance in his presence and reminds him that she was on her own spy mission and doesn’t need help.

That moment represented the foreshadowing of female fierceness. The movie continued to upend stereotypical roles for women in blockbuster films, including that of the king’s scientific-minded, teenage sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). She was truly the technological brains behind the operation. Both her youth and superior intelligence provided a fresh take on the gray-haired male scientist in the lab who has typically created new gadgets for our superheroes. Shuri, in fact, created all the Black Panther’s suits and devices made from the powerful, mythical metal known as vibranium.

Nakia, Shuri, and the other women fought valiantly alongside the men in almost every take. Even during in-fighting between Wakandan tribes, we see Okoye willing to directly take on her own love interest, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), who is head of Wakanda’s border tribe. Her all-female guard unit, the Dora Milaje, is responsible for protecting the king, and she does so with an unrelenting loyalty.

Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther

L-R: Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Shuri (Letitia Wright) in ‘Black Panther’

The moral anchor to the throne, T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), remained as a symbol of unwavering determination and wisdom. She also represented another, more practical symbol. Her white dreadlocks came as the crescendo of a celebration of natural hair. The only time the film featured something other than a woman’s natural hair was a brief moment by Erik Killmonger’s (Michael B. Jordan), the antagonist, girlfriend and then by Okoye. After having to wear a wig as a disguise, which she called disgraceful, Okoye flings it off her head in defiance in order to battle.

 

 

The film has already broken box office records of all kinds and is on course to smashing even more, scoring the eighth-largest single-day gross. It’s also the third-biggest opening for a superhero movie after each of the Avengers installations: The Avengers opened with $80 million in 2012 and Avengers: Age of Ultron opened with $84 million in 2015. According to Fandango, pre-sale tickets have already surpassed that of any previous superhero movie ever. Meanwhile, the film’s critical acclaim continues to give it the credibility that it so respectfully deserves, garnering 97% on Rotten Tomato.

 

 

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