BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. >> Scientist. Warrior. Queen Mother. Spy. These are just a few of the job titles of the women of “Black Panther,” now playing nationwide.
None of them are fighting over a guy, or needing one to save them. They are fierce, proud, intelligent and capable. And, in the case of Danai Gurira’s character Okoye and her fellow Dora Milaje fighters: Bald and rocking a bold lip while protecting the nation of Wakanda at the highest level.
No wonder they’ve practically upstaged their male counterparts.
Director Ryan Coogler and Marvel recruited an army of actresses of various backgrounds and ages with pedigrees fitting of their characters. Angela Bassett, 59, plays T’Challa/Black Panther’s mother, Queen Mother Ramonda. Danai Gurira, 40, is Okoye, the head of a special forces unit called the Dora Milage. Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o, 34, is Nakia, a spy, and newcomer Letitia Wright, 24, is Shuri, the second in line to the throne behind T’Challa and the top scientist in Wakanda.
They are essential both to the fabric of Wakanda and the story itself.
“I think it’s exciting for the minds of young children. All children need to see that anyone can be anything, women can be the head of an army and black and bald,” said Gurira. “When I was a kid, and right up until just now, these images were not there. That, to me, is so vital.”
Nyong’o marveled that none of the women are pitted against one another.
“We see women going about their business and supporting each other and even arguing with each other, having different points of view, but not being against each other and that’s incredibly important,” Nyong’o said in a press conference. “(We see) how much more effective a society can be if we allow women to explore their full potential.”
The cultural impact of just the female characters alone cannot be understated. Jamie Broadnax, the creator of the popular website Black Girl Nerds, said just the fact that black female action figures are being made is of enormous import.
“Black women everywhere and young women of color are finally going to see themselves reflected in a very profound way,” Boradnax said. “And just seeing these women have their own agency… They’re not subservient to the male characters. They are subservient in that it’s a monarchy but in a different way where they have a fully actualized narrative. I think that is super important as a black woman watching this movie.”
And while audiences might be used to seeing Bassett, Nyong’o and Gurira kick butt, metaphorically or otherwise, on screen, it is Wright’s character Shuri who has emerged as the breakout — both for Wright’s lively performance and the fact that Shuri is really, really cool. That she’s a princess too is beside the point.
Shuri designs most of the technology in the country, from medical services and weapons to Black Panther’s suits. And she isn’t afraid to get into the fight herself when called for. She even knows a few memes too.
Wright hopes that young girls watching the film might be inspired to pursue careers in science and technology.
“Representation in media is a real thing,” Gurira said. “How many little Shuris out there are being denied their opportunity to make this world a better place because they’re girls and not allowed to reach their full potential?”