The Women of Wakanda: Why ‘Black Panther’ is so important

the women of Wakanda

By Tiffany Mink

Marvel’s latest cinematic release, “Black Panther”, has been met with high critical acclaim as comic’s first black superhero has hits the screens nationwide. The movie celebrates black excellence with a pretty flawless film, as far as characters, storyline, plot and production design. However, an unexpected surprise comes in the form of the incredibly strong and well developed female characters that make “Black Panther” an even more important film than previously thought.

When it comes to diversity on-screen, black women are scarce. In the top 100 films of 2016, only 14 percent of all females roles were portrayed by black women. After taking into account that ladies makeup only 37 percent of all major roles in total, that’s barely over five percent of roles for black women. “Black Panther” makes valiant strides in showcasing what a film can accomplish when you combine great characters with great actresses and a solid story.

black panther film frame“When [Director, writer] Ryan [Coolger] sat me down and talked to me about his vision, and the story, and the characters, and the women, I was just floored because you don’t actually get to hear that often,” recalls actress Danai Guira (“The Walking Dead”). “It was just like, this is something else. I just want to watch it. I get to be in it?”

What’s important about the female roles in this film is how embedded they are in the story as well as how they correlate to the African ancestry of Wakanda. Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett, who plays Ramonda, Black Panther’s mother, remarked, “In African culture, they feel as if there is no king without a queen. And I think in this story, it highlights the queen, the warrior, the general – the young sister.” Black women are so powerful in Wakanda, T’Challa’s entire army is exclusively female.

“I would say what I love about the way this film represents women is that each and every one of us is an individual, unique, and we all have our own sense of power and our own agency, and we hold our own space without being pitted against each other,” Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o added. “And I think that’s a very, very powerful message to send to children, both male and female. We really get a sense of the fabric of Wakanda as a nation and we see women alongside men, and we see how much more effective a society can be if they allow women to explore their full potential.”

younger sister actress Letitia Wright.“Black Panther” also introduces Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister, portrayed by up-and-coming actress Letitia Wright. Shuri is incredible, because not only is she the youngest character of the main ensemble, but she’s also arguably the smartest person in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “What I love about it, with how it was written, is that the men are always behind the women. So no one’s undermined,” Wright said.

Writer, Director Ryan Coolger not only paved a way for women on screen, but took time to even prop up the ladies who worked behind the scenes. “They weren’t hired because they were women, they were hired because they were the best for the job,” he stated. Some of these crucial jobs included cinematographer Rachel Morrison, costume designer Ruth Carter, production designer Hannah Beachler, assistant director Lisa Satriano, editor Debbie Berman and notable executive producer Victoria Alonso.

Diversifying the entertainment industry has become an increasingly important topic, especially for people of color. With larger studios releasing blockbuster films like Pixar’s “Coco” and now Marvel’s “Black Panther”, audiences are beginning to see the representation they’ve been waiting for.

“Black Panther” is in theaters nationwide now. Check out our reviews.

Spoiler-Free Movie Review - 'Black Panther' by Marvel Studios

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