Black Panther opened Tuesday 13th February in the UK, to a monumental first weekend and record-breaking success. It has already earned over $520m worldwide, becoming the biggest solo superhero launch of all time.
But it isn’t the hero that interests me – it’s the heroines. The women of Wakanda are undoubtedly the most complex, intelligent and inspiring female characters we have seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. The characters in Black Panther are all extremely well developed, and to see four central women in any superhero film is surprising enough (although maybe not so much following last year’s Wonder Woman release), but to see them so established is something else. Beyond this, the four women each represent different values in their character:
Shuri (Letitia Wright) shines as the Tony Stark of their society. She is a 16-year-old with the mind of a genius, and it is refreshing to see no one underestimate or attempt to humble her – especially when viewing the power of teenagers rising up in the US at the minute. Her intelligence is unrivalled, yet she remains a teenager at heart. A young girl like her is someone I could only have dreamt of seeing on screen as a child, like Hermione Granger – only with much more sarcasm and style, and only slightly out of date Vine references.
Meanwhile, Okoye (Danai Gurira) makes her mark as the stoic warrior. The leader of the Dora Milaje, Okoye is a traditionalist who is always armed with her spear and her best poker face. She plays by the rules and gets things done without her authority being questioned. Her power is not only denoted by the gold on her uniform, but the attention she receives. To see such command in not only a female character but a woman of colour is almost unprecedented, and the fact that her army were inspired by many real life examples of warrior women (from the Dahomey Amazons of Africa to the Ifugao tribe of the Philippines) makes them all the more important.
Okoye finds her opposite in Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) – the peacekeeper and innovator. She is navigated not by patriotism but a strong moral compass, which often leads to her being a bit of a rule breaker. She is very resourceful and always searches for better solutions, even if that means being unconventional in method. Perhaps the most important aspect of Nakia’s character is not her personality, but her hair. While each tribe represented have different colours and styles in their clothing, all of the women in the movie have natural hair. And this was of upmost importance for everyone involved in the creation of the movie. Speaking to Trevor Noah about Nakia’s hair, Nyong’o said: “Wakanda is a country that’s never been colonized, so they embrace themselves. They have their own sense of what is beautiful”.
Finally, there is Ramonda (Angela Bassett). A relatively understated character, the Queen Mother captures attention with her regal elegance. We meet our central character, T’Challa, as a man grieving the loss of his father and dealing with becoming the King in his place, and at the same time we are reminded that Ramonda is a grieving wife. She is a highly regarded member of the High Council, and a loving mother to T’Challa and Shuri. Her maternal presence is also important in reminding the audience that family is such a central aspect to this movie, and to the Wakandan culture.
As for my favourite out of the four? Okoye, without a doubt. Her command of not only the other characters but of the audience leads to that level of immersion where you really do forget that what you’re watching isn’t a documentary. Wakanda seems so real, from the people that inhabit it to their clothes and technology, every ounce of effort that went into this film has paid off and created what I would place easily in my top 5 Marvel movies.
There’s no subtlety in the power this movie holds. And whilst the representation in this film is effortless, Black Panther is so much more than that. It is a story about family, about tradition, about
how the world is unfair and most importantly about whether or not we – as individuals or societies – can do something to change that.
The hope this film gives its viewers is worth its weight in Vibranium.
by Georgia Carroll
Georgia Carroll is a Broadcast Journalism student and proud Mancunian. She loves radio and hosts 3 weekly shows at her University radio station in Leeds. Next year she’ll be studying over in New Zealand, following in the footsteps of her favourite director Taika Waititi. You can find her on twitter at @georgiacarroll_ and letterboxd at @georgia_