Wonder Woman broke new ground for comic book movies with its offering of a kick-ass unit of female warriors, the Amazons, and now Marvel is following suit with the highly anticipated Black Panther movie. The Dora Milaje are a highly-skilled and lethal collective of female bodyguards assigned to protect the Wakandan king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). They were actually first introduced in Captain America: Civil War, via Ayo (Florence Karumba), the Dora Milaje assigned to protect Black Panther on his travels to Vienna, where Ayo’s attitude towards Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) showed viewers what to expect from these warriors of Wakanda and that is they are not women to be messed with.
The upcoming Black Panther film will see Florence reprise her Ayo role and no doubt offer greater detail and backstory to the legendary all-female guard, with Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira playing key members, Nakia and Okoye.
So what do we know so far about Black Panther’s lethal defenders? The Dora Milaje – which means “Adored Ones” in English – are made up of women from the various tribes of Wakanda to protect their ruler, and first appeared in the Marvel Comics 30 years after Black Panther’s first outing. They are some of the most skilled non-mutants in the Marvel universe, trained in a combination of martial arts styles as well as some fighting techniques specific to the fictional African nation. Thanks to Wakanda’s vibranium, they also wield deadly technologically-advanced weaponry to aid them in their defence of the Black Panther, and, expertly wield spears, swords and nunchaku. In the first teaser trailer, we can see them in action and just how much of a formidable adversary they are to anyone trying to come for T’Challa.
However, they are also considered wives-in-training for the Black Panther as they are the superior women of their respective tribes and would, therefore, strengthen the royal bloodline. This ancient tribal tradition served also to maintain peace within Wakanda, by allowing all the tribes the equal opportunity to see their most celebrated tribeswomen potentially become their country’s Queen. In the Marvel Comics, the Dora Milaje tradition had actually been dormant until T’Challa reinstated them after his relationship to African American Monica Lynn came to an end. The Wakandan king brought in Nakia and Okoye as some of the first members of Dora Milaje but saw them more as daughters than potential romantic partners and these women served more as ceremonial wives-in-training.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has given no indication that this particular storyline appears in the Black Panther movie, but Nyong’o’s character has been described as a love interest for Boseman’s titular hero. In the comics, Nakia always dreamed of marrying T’Challa, and becomes so jealous of the return of Monica in his life that she throws her love rival out of a plane, thus causing her expulsion from the Dora Milaje. Shunned by her native tribe, Nakia leaves Wakanda only to be captured and tortured by one of Black Panther’s enemies, Achebe. She is found by Erik Killmonger – another of the Wakandan king’s foes – who uses arcane methods to save her and make her more powerful than before. Nakia becomes one of Killmonger’s agents, boasting increased strength and perfect accuracy – and given the alias Malice.
In Black Panther, Erik is played by Michael B. Jordan and positioned as the main villain, so Ryan Coogler may well have incorporated this storyline but hopefully not the obsessive lover element. One thing Marvel has done *quite* well is to ensure that stereotypical depictions of women from the comics aren’t really translated to the big screen. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) from Iron Man is not in a love triangle with Tony Stark and Happy Hogan, while Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) from Thor is a actually an astrophysicist and not a nurse. It would seem pretty odd to have one of the strongest and deadliest female characters in Black Panther to have a school girl crush on T’Challa.
One Dora Milaje romance that would be progressive to see in the MCU is that between Ayo and Aneka (the unit’s combat instructor), which was created by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his latest run of the Black Panther comics series. They become lovers after Ayo rescues Aneka from prison, where she had been sent – by Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett in the film) – for breaking Wakandan tradition by killing the chieftain of a tribe who was abusing its women. Their queer relationship is the first for an African couple in the Marvel Comics and combats the rather sexist notion that these strong powerful women are ultimately subservient to a man.
There isn’t an Aneka character in the Black Panther cast list on IMDb yet but that doesn’t mean she won’t be revealed in the film. And given that she and Ayo team up to form the Midnight Angels, a rebel group of ex-Dora Milaje warriors working to protect and liberate Wakanda, they may well be brought in for future films in the franchise.
Another Dora Milaje member that could pop in future films is Queen Divine Justice, AKA Chanté Giovanni Brown. She was a princess of the Jabari tribe but taken to the US and raised in Chicago after her parents were killed during a dispute with the reigning Black Panther. Queen was unaware of her Wakandan heritage until T’Challa found her and brought her into the Dora Milaje, where she worked alongside Okoye.
These deadly female warriors will no doubt play a key role in Coogler’s Black Panther as well as in future sequels too, and who knows, maybe Marvel will do a Dora Milaje spin-off movie too. Given the success of Wonder Woman, there’s clearly an appetite for female-led superhero films, and one that has black women as the leads would definitely be a bold step towards making the genre far more diverse and representative.
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