While Marvel Studios’s Black Panther is headlined by the comic book company’s first and most famous black superhero and is set largely his African homeland Wakanda,... THE WOMEN OF ‘BLACK PANTHER’

While Marvel Studios’s Black Panther is headlined by the comic book company’s first and most famous black superhero and is set largely his African homeland Wakanda, the film’s diversity doesn’t end there. From his family to his nation’s fierce fighting force, the Black Panther is also surrounded by women of color who push the boundaries of action films forward.

With a cast that includes Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, the iconic Angela Bassett, The Walking Dead star Danai Gurira and Ready Player One headliner Letitia Wright, the Ryan Coogler-helmed film offers up a wide-ranging array of distinctive roles for women – and even developed them further to avoid certain gender-based topes and pitfalls from the comic book source material.

“What Ryan and [co-screenwriter] Joe Robert Cole have done with this film maybe deepened our understanding of the role of women in Wakanda,” said Nyong’o of the evolution of the source concepts during a press visit to the Atlanta set. “The women as we meet them are departures from what we know of them in the comic books.”

“Usually [movies like this] have the damsel in distress – I don’t think there are any damsels in distress in this movie,” Chadwick Boseman. “That doesn’t exist in this movie. All these characters are strong.  Even if it’s not a physical prowess, there is a mental prowess. It’s intelligence and savvy.”

“One of the things that we love about the property of Black Panther is that there are so many interesting roles around him, whether it be Ramonda, his mother, or his sister, Shuri,” said producer Nate Moore. Indeed, Shuri serves an especially vital role: she’s not just T’Challa’s younger sibling; she provides his high-tech arsenal.

Letitia Wright Shuri Black Panther

“Shuri is the head of the Wakanda Design Group,” explained Moore of the film’s take on the character, “She’s the smartest person in the world – smarter than Tony Stark – but she’s a 16-year-old girl, which we thought was really interesting. Black faces in positions of power or positions of technological know-how – that’s a rarity.”

“She’s a big reason that T’Challa gets into gadgets in the film,” Moore continued. “She’s his sister, so she’s going to be next to him in a lot of these adventures, a lot of these scenes. It’s a bit of a different tact than you’ve seen in comics before, but she, like T’Challa, lost her father in the last film so that’s going to resonate with her as well.”

“Being the Head of Technology in Wakanda has a ton of responsibilities,” added Moore. “Part of that responsibility is keeping that technology secret while developing these amazing gadgets. As the walls start to close in, what does she have to do to make sure what she’s done stays out of the wrong hands?”

“She also works a lot with Vibranium, and she’s been studying it since she was like a child,” Wright, who plays Shuri, told Fandango during an appearance at Comic-Con International in 2017. “She’s a really smart scientist, but there’s a lot more layers to her when you see in the film.”

Wright admitted she’s also well aware of the future possibilities inherent in Shuri, given that in the comics she adopted the identity of Black Panther herself for a time. “I did my homework!” laughed Wright. “That’s an exciting part of it: you don’t know which way it’s going to go, because obviously they take from the comic book, add their flavor to it, and then they keep it going. Whatever the future holds is going to be positive anyway, because if they embrace a story like this, you know it’s going to be good.”

“It’s not very often that you see a superhero with a little sister,” said Boseman. “It brings out a different part of his character…The way a little sister can poke at you, and you’re protective of her but she still thinks she’s your mother, all those different things. And the actress has those qualities I think she just makes you happy as soon as you see her.  Everyday she comes in you’re like ‘Oh shoot, it just changed my attitude about everything!’”

Angela Bassett Black Panther

In an interview with TooFab, Bassett, who plays T’Challa’s recently widowed mother, Ramonda, was enthusiastic about the amount of black actresses in challenging roles featured in the film. “It is just a beautiful sight,” said Bassett. “It’s a lot of strength and balance and beauty and I’m just thrilled by getting to work with Danai and Lupita and actresses and brand new faces across the diaspora, it was beautifully cast. It’s going to be quite a sight, and I think it’s going to be magnetic.”

Boseman said he was also impressed with the gravitas that Bassett brought to the role. “She’s incredible to watch and she’s always really strong,” says the actor. “Because my father is dead it gives me the opportunity to look to her for wisdom, and I think it shows the matriarchal African society in doing that. So she’s an advisor that I would go to, and it’s a close relationship. It’s not just like ‘She’s my mother, she’s on the side’ – she’s not a figurehead mother.”

Dora Milaje Black Panther

Moore said a great deal of care also went into the development of Wakanda’s elite warrior cadre, traditionally portrayed in the comics as complete comprised of women since their introduction in the comics in 1998.

“I think building out his relationship with the Dora Milaje, this group of all-female, Seal Team Six Special Forces women but making them all characters, making them all individuals rather than this monolithic force of ass-kickers,” revealed Moore. “That would be fun, and we’d always thought that’d be fun, but what we didn’t expect and what he really wanted to explore is the depth of the emotional connections between T’Challa and those individuals.”

Dora Milaje Black Panther

“They’re a big part of the movie,” Moore continued. “Danai Gurira plays Okoye who, in our world, is the head of the Dora and a pivotal character in the movie. Exploring how they work, their role in Wakanda and their relationship with the King is a big part of the storytelling.”

“What Wakanda has down well is it has honored people by allowing them to function within their strengths,” Gurira told Entertainment Weekly while discussing her character Okoye, the leader of the Dora Malaji. “These women are functioning within their strengths…It’s more like a Secret Service in a sense that it’s also very much about intel. It’s not just military. She is head of intel. She is a busy woman.“

“She is a lover and protector of her people and of the throne,” Gurira added. “To protect the throne, you are protecting the core institution of the nation, which allows it to thrive. She has a deep passion and connection to her country, to her people, and to the very special nature of who and what they are. Preserving that is something that is at the core of who she is.”

One aspect of the Dore Milaje the film chose to alter was their original depiction as all being ceremonial wives-in-training to the Black Panther. “That was sort of part of the original Christopher Priest run where they were all betrothed, which we felt wasn’t necessary to tell the story of the Dora – and in a way we all kind of rejected as being a little creepy. So we will not be exploring that.”

Lupita Nyong'o Black Panther

Nyong’o’s role, Nakia, primarily shares only a name in common with her comics counterpart: originally Nakia was a former Dore Milaje who turned renegade after being twisted by an obsession with T’Challa; in the film, she’s one of Wakanda’s War Dogs, an elite espionage agent who monitors the outside world in an attempt to safeguard the country and ensure its legendary secrecy.

“I think as a War dog she is in service to her country – and to her passion, which is linked to the outside world,” said Nyong’o, whose allegiance to Wakanda may come into conflict with her loyalties to her king, T’Challa. “I think we see in this film Nakia has to figure out what comes first for her.”

Nakia is also a capable warrior in her own right, and Nyong’o admits the physicality of the role “is intense! I mean, I had dreams of being in an action film but I didn’t realize that it was going to change my diet and require me to wake up at insane hours,” the actress laughed. “This week alone, I woke up to work out at three in the morning, which is ridiculous. So it does take a lot of physical endurance and a commitment to your body, like nothing else. But it’s been so much fun to challenge my body in this new way. Nakia’s fighting style is being informed by judo and ju-jitsu and silat.”

Costume designer Ruth E. Carter, whose collaborators have included filmmakers Spike Lee, Lee Daniels, Ava DuVernay and Steven Spielberg, said great care went into re-imagining the looks of the women inhabiting Black Panther’s world, especially the Dore Milaje.

“We wanted to make them have more of a presence, more of a strength of authority – they were badass chicks who were protecting the king,” said Carter. “The Black Panther, is walking around in this skin-suit, and we didn’t want the guy in the skin-suit walking around with the girls in the bathing suits.”

“We developed them more as a real warrior might be developed,” Carter explained. “Real warriors who need their arms protected and need to have shields and armor and weaponry and shoes – like they’re really going to go to battle. It took us some time to get there, because we all, as women, want to be that girl who can fry up the bacon and do all the other stuff. But in the end, it’s got to feel empowering.”

Lupita Nyong'o Letitia Wright Black Panther

For Nyongo’s look as Nakia, revealed Carter, “she starts out very tough. We see her immediately as a fighter. We know her as a fighter. She’s dusty and dirty and she wants to stay in that element. She’s comfortable there. I researched all kinds of fashionable, dirty fighters…What we found for her was really great because it was very much not a part of Wakanda. It was a part of the world around, and she travels into Wakanda and then she starts to gradually go back to her Wakandan roots, in that her color palette also changes.”

Carter is one of several women working in high-profile behind-the-scenes roles on the film: another is production designer Hannah Beachler, who conceived the entire look and feel of the elaborately envisioned Wakanda, among other crucial elements. “You’re going to really get to know these people, and see a lot of it in the design – who they are, and how they handle themselves as people and as a society, and why it’s important that we bring Wakanda to the world,” added Beachler.

“I’ve worked with Ryan Coogler before, so this is our third film together, which is very lovely, because we have a nice shorthand” said Beachler, who along with “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” also designed the productions for the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” and Beyonce’s culture-rattling “Lemonade” video. “I’m pretty grateful that he trusted me – like, ‘Here’s a civilization. Let’s go.’ So that was fun. We always have fun. He always drags me into things that I’m not expecting that I would ever do in my life, so it’s challenging and keeps me doing something new all the time.”

Boseman said the he was thrilled to share scenes with powerful and engaged actresses. “It’s just a beautiful thing,” he enthused. “They challenge the director every day, and they bring those same challenges that their characters have: they attack T’Challa in the same way. They’re not afraid to challenge him. I think it’s cool to have conflict that’s not I’m-going-to-kill-you conflict. You need other types of conflict to bring out other parts of your character.”

Marvel films have been tasked with addressing diversity concerns head-on, said Moore. “We’ve always tried to find room for faces that look like everybody, and not just homogenous casting,” he explained. “Looking at casting as a way to find the best actor regardless of race or gender, frankly.

“Sometimes we step in it a little bit,” Moore conceded, recalling a notable misstep: the casting of Tilda Swinton in a role that traditionally was portrayed an Asian male wasn’t perceived as quite the progressive move the studio initially imagined. “I think the Ancient One in ‘Doctor Strange’ was a bit of a lesson for us. In trying to avoid a stereotype we created an issue that we completely understood in hindsight. But we want to tell stories for everybody.”


Obinna Onyia

  • Tyesha Liggins

    2018-03-02 #1 Author

    So ready to see this movie


  • Vanessa talaver

    2018-03-04 #2 Author

    Been in a marvel movie marathon for days before watching Black panther! Were so Excited! 😂


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *