While visiting the set of Marvel’s Black Panther and interviewing its all-star cast, we learn that fans can expect Ryan Coogler’s first superhero epic will treat women as superheroes in their own right. Don’t expect any ‘damsels in distress!’
Black Panther is one of the most exciting films in Marvel’s slate. One major reason is because the film is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and that country treats women very differently to Western society. The King of Wakanda is traditionally guarded by the Dora Milaje, an all-female group of warrior women. On our set visit last February, Screen Rant and select other media outlets had the opportunity to speak to stars Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong’o about the film.
Reflecting on the movie’s female characters, Boseman insisted that the film will avoid the classic tropes.
“Usually you have the damsel in distress. I don’t think there are any damsels in distress in this movie. That doesn’t exist in this movie.”
Nyong’o agreed. Although she was wary of giving spoilers, she assured fans that director Ryan Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole have “deepened our understanding of the role of women in Wakanda.” At the same time, she gave a caution to fans. “The women as we meet them are departures from what we know of them in the comic books,” she observed.
Excitingly, Boseman decided to go into detail over a couple of T’Challa’s family relationships. To him, the most interesting was the relationship between the new King and his sister, Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. “It’s not very often that you see a superhero with a little sister,” Boseman noted. It certainly seems Wright really impressed him, and Boseman says she “just makes you happy as soon as you see her.” Reflecting on her portrayal, he added, “Everyday she comes in, you’re like, ‘Oh, shoot, it just changed my attitude about everything.'”
It certainly sounds as though that particular character dynamic will be an entertaining one. Boseman described T’Challa as “protective of her,” but observed that she has the ability to poke at him like any sibling. “She still thinks she’s your mother,” he quipped.
That’s not the only familial relationship in the film, of course. Angela Bassett has joined up as T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda, and that relationship sounds to be a key one.
“She’s incredible to watch and, again, she’s always really strong. I would say in this movie because my father is dead it gives me the opportunity to sort of look to her for wisdom and I think it shows the matriarchal African society in doing that so she’s an advisor that I would go to. And it’s a close relationship, it’s not just like she’s my mother, that she’s on the side. She’s not a figurehead mother.”
Wary of spoiling too much, Boseman refused to give details about Nyong’o’s Nakia or Danai Gurira’s Okoye. He described both female characters as willing to “challenge” T’Challa, adding a layer of conflict that’s quite unusual for a superhero film. “I think it’s cool to have conflict that’s not, ‘I’m going to kill you’ conflict,” the actor noted. “You need other types of conflict to bring out other parts of your character.”
Black Panther looks set to be a unique superhero film, with Ryan Coogler working to create an entire fictional society. Clearly he’s put a lot of thought into the role women play in Wakanda; as such he’s created a nation where women most certainly avoid the “damsel in distress” trope. If Boseman and Nyong’o’s comments are accurate, the female stars of this film will shine brightly indeed.
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