Marvel’s record-shattering film, Black Panther, has left its footprint not only in entertainment but within American culture. For decades, Black people have been portrayed through various lights in the media and entertainment industry. While there have been quite a few positive representations in media and film, the reality remains that negative images still exist. Black Panther amazingly broke down a lot of these inaccuracies, not only challenging the negative stereotypes that are associated with Africa and African culture but the roles of Black men and women.
All too often, Black women have been negatively represented in media and film; from Hattie McDaniel’s “Mammy” character in Gone With the Wind to today’s various reality shows that perpetuate the angry, ghetto, and hypersexualized stereotypes. Black Panther marvelously addressed the roles that Black women play within our community and offered positive representation in a major big screen production.
Without a doubt, black mothers (and maternal figures) are the backbones of our communities. They understand the way the world is set up and fiercely protect and love their children. Ramonda, (played by Angela Bassett) T’Challa (a.k.a. The Black Panther) is a strong yet calm voice of reason. She is a loving yet firm mother, supporting her children in their roles but also offering comfort and reason when needed. As Queen Mother, she is also a strong political figure and the love she has for her son helped her support him and inevitably aided in saving his life. There are times when black mothers go underappreciated, but it should be kept in mind that they bear and raise the kings and queens of our community all while maneuvering through the world as a black woman.
Shuri (played by Letitia Wright) is T’Challa’s younger sister. She is his confidante, advisor and right-hand. But don’t be mislead. Shuri is an inspirational, strong, and extremely intelligent woman who can stand on her own. She’s aided Wakanda in their technological advances and gives young girls everywhere who aspire to be scientists or medical professionals a positive figure to look up to. She is fiercely loyal to her family, friends, and community and this is exuded through her willingness to help as much as possible.
Without a doubt, Nakia (played by Lupita Nyong’o) was my favorite character. As T’Challa’s love interest, she was also a voice of reason and influence in his life, which is very true in reality. However, while in the past Black women have been presented as undesirable mates, often portrayed as headstrong and unsubmissive, Black Panther destroyed these negative connotations and shed a new light on the fierceness and magic that Black women possess. While Nakia was extremely loyal to T’Challa, going as far as risking her life for him, she also had a mind of her own, which T’Challa respected. She used her intelligence to support her love but didn’t sacrifice her dreams and goals in the process. She proved to be more of a partner with a voice than a shadow that silently followed her mate’s footsteps. T’Challa supported Nakia’s individual goals, and as a really supportive spouse would, he made them a part of his personal goals as well. Nakia is a magnificent on-screen representation of the nature of black women. Yes, we are strong, Yes, we are powerful. These are ideal qualities for a partner, someone who will yes, be there to offer support, but also has much to bring to the table and should be shown the respect they deserve.
Wakanda’s top general Okoye (played by Danai Gurira), also happens to be one of T’Challa’s closest friends. Although she is vehemently loyal to the throne, she also cares very deeply for T’Challa. Often a source of logic, Okoye proved to be a tremendous and loyal comrade who wasn’t afraid to share her opinions and offer advice. She was also loyal to Nakia, risking her position to help her friend. In today’s reality TV shows, we see a lot of disloyalty and backstabbing among these women, but Black Panther promotes unity with the female leads working together to support each other and back the men in their lives.
Collectively, the women of Black Panther are all leaders in her own right. After the loss of her husband, Ramonda became the leader of her familial unit. Shuri was a leader and trailblazer when it came to Wakanda’s technological advancements. Nakia became a leader when she took fate into her own hands and went to help Ramonda and Shuri. And of course Okoye, who was a bold leader of an army of equally badass women warriors. All of these women are great examples to look at, they are all fearless and independent but can bring their skills together to form a formidable force.
If you haven’t already seen Black Panther, I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to the culture. Not only has it broken stereotypes and stigmas associated with African culture, but women are also exalted and shown to be the true backbone of society.