Cheo Hodari Coker, show runner for Marvel’s Luke Cage, once described the show as a “love letter to Black women.” He took special care to make characters like Simone Missick’s Misty Knight fully developed and independent characters who reflected Black women he knew in real life.
Well, if Luke Cage was a love letter to Black women, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is a multi-page tome of adoration that would make the late Maya Angelou peek over her glasses and give a wink of approval. Yes, Black Panther’s casting is a beautiful testimony to the virtues of painting with all of the colors at your disposal. But the women are not mere adornments. They are indispensable cogs in the story that keeps it ticking and timeless.
For example, I was so thrown by the complexity of Lupita Nyong’o's character, Nakia, a Wakandan spy, that it made me think of a line from Pharoahe Monchs’ “Still Standing,” where he describes a “transcontinental indigenous diva who speaks multiple languages for unspeakable reasons.”
“She’s very worldly. She’s a lone wolf, but at the same time, she’s fiercely loyal to her people,” Lupita says of Nakia. “She has a very specific view of what role Wakanda can play in the world. And her complicated relationship with T’Challa is definitely there. But he also really respects her view and seeks council from her. She’s very understated in her leadership style. And what I love about the women of Wakanda that Ryan wrote into this movie is that they’re all so specific and all so powerful in their own way. And they occupy very different roles and influences on the king, you know. And that is important to see, especially for young girls. That power does not just look like one thing. Power does not equal bullying or aggression. Sometimes power is quiet and deliberate. And I think that’s what Nakia is.”
Angela Bassett plays T’Challa’s stepmother, Queen Ramona, and is equally proud of how women of Wakanda are portrayed in Black Panther.
“I think their voices, their opinions, their contributions, their presence, their beauty, in its variables and its variedness, is really striking and important,” she says. “And I think it’s a beautiful example for young women to see, for young brothers to witness as well. That they have a voice and that they will be heard. And that they are leaders and conquerors and doers. And that they’re wise beyond belief regardless of their ages or their physical abilities.”
In fact, it is reasonable to say that Letitia Wright’s Shuri, the teenage genius and sibling of T’Challa, steals every scene she’s in and has some of the most memorable lines in the film.
“I’m very surprised at the reaction and the feedback," says Wright. "I guess because [it was] just me and myself, Ryan (Coogler) and Joe (Rober Cole) just collaborating on Shuri…working on her and she’s just a real teenager. I think just seeing someone so real on-screen and so relatable has a positive impact. She’s just being honest and in that honesty, there’s humor. And I’m happy that people are laughing and happy to see Shuri on screen.”
Watch BET’s full video with the women of Wakanda above.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney