After Black Panther’s release, internet dwellers birthed thinkpieces like the Duggars. Many of them focused on what the film meant for Black cinema, superhero movies, and women on screen. But in my many hours contemplating how much I didn’t want to write white noise about Black Panther, I wound up questioning one of the base facts of the film- its protagonist. In a movie about a fake African country, with a fake metal that has lead to wild technological advancements, where the ruler is also a superhero who teams up with an international group of superheroes, one of whom is from another planet, why, other than the source material that began 50 years ago, did Wakanda have to be a patriarchy? Especially when there are a lot of qualified ladies to be running things around there.
Let’s start with the mess the bros created:
T’Chaka is the worst. He killed his brother hella quick, covered it up, and left a whole ass Black child in an America he knew wouldn’t love him. He held strong to the isolationist policy that bore N’Jobu and Killmonger, and he displayed the same type of selfish privilege that people in power have always clung to.
N’Jobu’s deceit was in the right spirit if you ask some people (including me), but was poorly planned and executed. A prince from a prestigious African nation relied on a White South African in 1992 to carry out a plan meant to embolden and empower Black people globally. Really, bro?
Beyond fighting skill and the magic of black not cracking (Chadwick Boseman is 40 y’all), what’s so special about T’Challa? He’s average. As he takes the throne and Nakia expresses a desire to do more for the world, he doesn’t give it serious consideration. He takes for granted that his country, its policies, and its former rulers, have always been right. Time and time again he rests on tradition, even though he has innovation right under his nose.
Erik Killmonger is bae, but also too far gone. Baby, your heart is in the right place, but your spirit is broken, you’re super arrogant, and you murdered your girlfriend.
M’baku is dope though.
The ladies, on the other hand, were basically running the place anyway, without the crown.
I don’t need to explain the power of Shuri, because it’s been done and we all know. But I will say 1) Tony who? and 2) likening her to James Bond’s Q is an insult. Q is a support- he provides saves that Bond can pull out in a pinch, the cherry on top. Literally nothing in this movie could have happened without Shuri. She is the Black Panther.
Okoye and Nakia have different values, particularly toward the climax of the film, when Killmonger is crowned king and each must decide what to do. Nakia’s decision to leave Wakanda and spearhead a rebellion can be seen as the same type of well-meaning revolt as N’Jobu. But where N’Jobu was pulled in, quickly and deeply, to someone else’s dangerously radical plot, this is Nakia’s life. She is a spy who has been committed, long before the events of the film, to making change for those most impacted by poverty and violence. Her decision to oppose further violence is in line with the values she’s always held. And, her work as a spy gives her the skill set to execute something like this far better than N’Jobu’s lame/lazy deal with Klaue, a clearly awful person.
Anyone who wants to hate on Okoye’s decision is, frankly, wrong. Okoye’s first love and highest priority is her country. With her king dead and a new ruler crowned, she refused to panic. She didn’t have the same entitled, problematic, and ultimately emotional response as her contemporaries on the council, Nakia, and the royal family, who all dismissed Killmonger himself, his (very legitimate) claim to the throne, and the suffering of Black people literally everywhere else. Most importantly, she wasn’t loyal to T’Challa or Killmonger- she was loyal to Wakanda. When it was clear that Killmonger would never be stable enough to rule, she fought against him. And when she faced her own boo thang, W’kabi, in battle, he asks her, “Would you kill me, my love?” With pure power and sincerity she responds, “For Wakanda? No question”, and it is the most triumphant moment in the movie (don’t @ me. Or do, whatever).
It’s interesting to watch a movie that is so lauded for its powerful and empowered women, and yet they’re still supporting characters and in subservient roles. They were the most capable people in the movie, and none of them will rule Wakanda (unless Ryan Coogler reads this and is like “actually, you know what- between the first and second movies Wakanda turned into a progressive democratic society and voted Shuri into a presidency”).
Even in Wakanda, it’s the men who got us into the mess and the might and vision of women that got us out. Because #BlackGirlMagic is just like that.
Shuri for Queen 2020
Wakanda forever tho.