Warning! SPOILERS for Black Panther ahead!
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been traditionally dominated by men, but we're beginning to see a shift to include more women on the roster. At first, Black Widow was the only female Avenger. Now, Scarlet Witch in on the team, Lady Sif fought for Asgard, Valkyrie is going to be a future player, The Wasp will be the first Marvel woman to receive top-billing alongside her male co-star, and come 2019, Captain Marvel will be the MCU's first movie with a female lead. These are important steps on the way to greater representation for women in the MCU and the superhero genre at large, but it's the women of Black Panther who have made the greatest strides for equality in superhero movies.
In Black Panther, T'Challa's (Chadwick Boseman) support network is predominately women. They form a tight-knit team, with each playing a crucial role in saving Wakanda and helping T'Challa reclaim his throne. This is a stark contrast to the mostly male casts common in superhero movies, and with the exception of the X-Men films, Black Panther is the first Marvel superhero movie to feature so many women characters front and center. It's a refreshing take, and judging by the hugely positive response their characters have received, it's something audiences are craving.
The discussion of an all or mostly female Avengers movie (sometimes referred to as A-Force) is a topic that has been gaining a lot traction lately. Thor: Ragnarok actress Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie) and Guardians of the Galaxy's Karen Gillen (Nebula) have been vocal in their support of the idea, and it was recently revealed that they along with Scarlet Johansson (Black Widow), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), and Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) attended a pitch meeting with Kevin Feige about just such a project. With the women of Black Panther arguably being the breakout stars of the film, it's time Marvel seriously considers moving forward with an A-Force film.
This Page: The Women of Black Panther Matter
The Women of Black Panther Matter
Black Panther is by far Marvel's most feminist movie yet. The main cast boasts four female characters and each has a significant role to play in the film. Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) is a War Dog or spy for Wakanda, taking part in missions outside of the country where she feels she can do some good, like thwarting an illegal ivory trade or saving women from human trafficking. She is also T'Challa's ex-lover, but that fact does not define her character; instead, it informs her close relationship with him and makes her one of his strongest allies. Okoye (Danai Gurira) is the leader of the Dora Milage - an all women guard corpse who serve as the king's personal security. She is one of T'Challa's most trustworthy advisers and her loyalty to Wakanda is unmatched. After the Black Panther, Okoye is Wakanda's greatest warrior, and therefore, an invaluable asset in battle.
Ramonda (Angela Basset) is T'Challa's mother and the former queen of Wakanda. She is a source of wisdom and guidance for her son, reassuring him when he doubts himself. Ramonda's role is less active than that of either Nakia or Okoye, but her impact on T'Challa and the course of the film is felt all the same. Family is an important theme in Black Panther and nowhere is this more strongly felt than with the bond between T'Challa and his younger sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). She is no shy or demure princess but a force to be reckoned with, and for all their teasing, there is a great affection between the two siblings. Shuri is outspoken, but her confidence is earned because her technological inventions are just as important as the Black Panther's superpowers. She is who builds the Black Panther suit, after all. Like Nakia and Okoye, Shuri brings her own skills to the team and they prove vital to their success.
Not only are these women important to T'Challa, but they are important to the story in Black Panther. Beyond their obvious skills and talents, each woman has a space in society where they are in charge: Ramonda is the family matriarch, Nakia has her War Dog missions (and eventually, the Wakandan Outreach Center), Shuri her lab, and Okoye is the general of the Dora Milaje. They are each also responsible for saving something that is crucial to victory: Nakia saves the last heart-shaped herb; Ramonda makes the Black Panther serum and revives her son; Shuri saves the Black Panther suit when they're forced to flee; and in the final battle, Okoye remains loyal to her king and leads the Dora Milaje in helping to win the day.
The women of Black Panther are not background characters - they play important roles in Wakanda and are an active part of the film's narrative. They are who stay true to T'Challa, supporting him even when his other advisers and friends (looking at you, W'Kabi) betray him. Throughout Wakandan society, women are seen holding positions of leadership among the other tribes and serving on the king's council. Even in the ancestral lands, there are women among the spirits of former Black Panthers, implying the role of Wakanda's leader and protector is not limited to their sons. T'Challa is a better person and ruler because he listens and works with the women in his life, and this makes Black Panther a film with a surprisingly strong argument for greater gender equality - in the MCU as well as our own world.
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