Finally, a movie with numerous coloured women playing strong, positive roles. The director allowed each woman to be multi-faceted, strong, beautiful, and all different from each other — a true representation of black women.


For me, feminism allows women to be whatever we want to be. We are fighting against being put in a box (amongst numerous other things), we are fighting to be allowed to be ALL we want to be, at the same time.

The best part of the representation of black women in Black Panther? They were clearly the real superheroes in the movie, and they did not even need superpowers (sounds like our mums, right?) Ryan Coogler’s decision to surround T’Challa (a.k.a., Black Panther) with numerous powerful women who were allowed to shine in their own right was intentional, since this is: ‘what you see in African communities — women tend to hold it down’, said the writer-director.

‘Historically, black women are placed into four stereotypical frames: The Mammy, The Jezebel, The Sapphire and The Matriarch’.[1]  But there is nothing stereotypical about the women in Black Panther — they are all completely unique individuals.

Shuri (T’Challa’s 16-year-old sister, played by Letitia Wright) was, without a doubt, the most intelligent character in the movie. She was behind Wakanda’s technological innovations, which put them above any country in the world. Shuri is also cheeky and silly. She acts 16. She teases her brother, makes jokes at inappropriate times, and is unapologetically herself; and that does not take away from her genius. Shuri is also not afraid of action, and is always more than ready to jump in and get her hands dirty. We also see another side of Shuri when she believes her brother has been killed, the emotional side of losing a family member. In too many films, strong women are not allowed to have any emotions. Intelligent black women are usually portrayed as not realising their own genius, hiding their intelligence to make others around them feel more comfortable. Shuri is the refreshing exception to that clichéd formula. She does not hide her talent, she is proud of it. Shuri is a strong girl that cries at the loss of family members, as anyone would do. She is real, and relatable.

The Dola Milaje warriors, led by Okoye (Danai Gurira), are Wakanda’s strongest warriors. One of my favourite parts from the entire movie is when Okoye, dressed in a gorgeous red dress, has to jump right into action and flings herself off a balcony to immerse in combat, only to come out shortly still looking like she could go to an awards show! However, Okoye is important for the representation of black women in a different way. She is allowed to be wrong, and she is allowed to correct herself without backlash. With Killmonger’s ascension to the throne, Okoye decides to stay, as she is loyal to the throne regardless of who sits on it. However, when she realises that she is unable to support this man, and switches to the ‘right’ side, she is allowed to do so without any judgement. This is interesting as successful black women in our world today are rarely permitted mistakes with impunity. I mean, can you just imagine the difference in reaction if Serena Williams had done a Maria Sharapova?

Last but not least we have, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o’s character) who makes an important contribution to feminist role models. She refuses to give up her career for a man (king or not), in just the same way that T’Challa would not have given up his role as king. And the film, admirably, does not belittle this choice. There was no portrayal of the superiority of T’Challa’s work — even as King of Wakanda. In the end, she got her man and her job, which was exactly what she wanted; just the feminist icon we need.

Black Panther is an important film for everyone, but especially for black people. The mainstream media continues to represent social realities that:

‘are shaped by histories of colonization, slavery, and imperialism; histories that were shaped by and have shaped white supremacy, racism, and sexism in our society today’.[2]

This film challenges that pattern by being a movie by black people for black people; it shows us what we could have been doing if we had not been oppressed and plundered for so long. Black Panther portrays our people as the intelligent and strong beings that they are.

 

Sources:

[1] FRAMING OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN IN MAINSTREAM AND BLACK WOMEN’S MAGAZINES A Thesis presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School at the University of Missouri-Columbia In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts by MARIAN MCPHERSON Dr. Cynthia Frisby, Thesis Supervisor, May 2015.

[2] Black Twitter: A Response to Bias in Mainstream Media Latoya A. Lee Department of Sociology, State University of New York at Oswego, 313 Mahar Hall, 7060 Route 104, Oswego, NY 13126, USA; latoya.lee@oswego.edu Academic Editors: Jenny L. Davis and David A. Banks Received: 1 October 2016; Accepted: 2 March 2017; Published: 5 March 2017.