For the (Pop) Culture: The women warriors of Wakanda
If you have been in the void, on an internet fast or held hostage in a Wi-Fi dead area for the last year, then it's possible you haven't heard about this little cinematic experiment called “Black Panther.” (Also, let me be the first to say, “Welcome back!”)
The quick version is that in Marvel's serialized storytelling and connected universe, we are finally waking to the fictional African country of Wakanda and its ruling king, the Black Panther. There are, quite literally, dozens upon dozens of reasons as to why longtime comic book fans have been looking forward to this movie, due both to the concept and, it appears, to its execution (the casting and personnel involved are all A++ level).
In addition to having a black superhero take center stage, placing Ryan Coogler in the director's chair, and the sheer brilliance and hype generated by the marketing campaign, I'm specifically looking at the expansive ensemble of this movie. In particular, the strong black woman representation.
Ever since Iron Man blasted himself out of that cave, comic book movies have been sorely lacking black women in prominent roles. Well, let's be honest, a specific-looking black woman. While the announcement of Tessa Thompson in “Thor: Ragnarok” and Zendaya in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” generated equal parts excitement and relief, it wasn't hard to tell many of these women shared a visual similarity. If it wasn't Viola Davis, aka arguably the best performer living right now, then you would be hard pressed to see black women of a darker complexion with any significant role in this burgeoning genre. Which is why “Black Panther” is so refreshing.
The women of Wakanda have featured prominently in promotional material for “Black Panther.” Ever since we got our first peek at the Dora Milaje — Black Panther's personal bodyguards and the fiercest warriors in the country — during the infamous ‘move or be moved' scene in “Captain America: Civil War,” people have been chomping at the bit to see them in action. If the trailers are any indication, it will not disappoint.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of these characters is that they have become much more nuanced and multifaceted in the most recent print comic book run, written by famed author and intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates. They went from mostly nameless but still relentless warriors to full characters with their own backstories, motivations and character beats, all independent of the patriarchal figure they are sworn to protect. Some of these concepts have made it into the movie, and the reality is, seeing a bunch of black women interact with each other in a meaningful way will be a new Marvel concept.
The hype for this film has reached pandemic levels. Thankfully, early returns make it appear as if the hype has been warranted. Regardless, seeing a mostly black cast headline such a big-budget film is worth celebrating, and, in the words of Issa Rae, come Feb. 16, “I'm rooting for everybody black.”