A brief exploration of the Women of Wakanda in regards to black womanhood in real life.
Black Panther is a global phenomenon, breaking box office records and setting new ones! It’s the first movie in the MCU to be directed by a black person, it features a stellar cast and has a fire soundtrack. What I loved most about the movie however was its welcome depiction of black women.
Be warned: this may contain SPOILERS!
What makes the women of Wakanda so great?
The women of Wakanda were strong. ‘They weren’t strong because they were angry, they weren’t strong because they were hurt. They were strong because they were strong’. Their strength wasn’t depicted like this:
We see strength in Okoye choosing to remain in Wakanda after T’Challa gets chucked off the cliff. We see strength in Nakia’s diplomatic dilligence and commitment to equality for all. We see strength in Shuri who – despite just losing her father – creates innovative technologies that are essential to Wakanda’s economy; all the while being puntastic and carefree.
It is refreshing to see these characters with different goals each demonstrate their strength in ways that are unique to them. Society often attributes black female strength to biology but it’s something we labour for – through the strength of Nakia’s experience she used her initiative to begin diplomatic relations with The Jabari after T’Challa was presumed dead.
2. They didn’t have to deal with stereotypes
Lupita Nyong’o said the women of Wakanda were allowed to reach their full potential. These women were unencumbered by the constraints society places on black women: in particular, stereotypes.
Here are two of the most common ways in which black women are still stereotyped by the mainstream media:
The sassy sidekick/’there when you need her’ sassy friend:
Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her portrayal of The Mammy in 1940, fast forward 70 years to 2012 when Octavia Spencer won an Oscar for her portrayal as Minny Jackson in 2011’s ‘The Help’. Such change. Such progress.
These are some other ways in which black women are still stereotyped: The angry black woman, the strong independent black woman who don’t need no man and the equally desirable and undesirable jezebel – to name a few.
Black Panther refused these ridiculous misconceptions of black womanhood and so the women of Wakanda were able to just be women. All of them were accepted as normal in Wakandan society, their thoughts, opinions and morals were valued and affirmed.
3. No respectability politics
Stereotypes lead to respectability politics which are essentially rules for marginalised folk to follow in order to earn space in mainstream society.
No matter how many respectability quests you complete, how many RP’s (respectability points) you stack; you will never be able to earn the space you already deserve in society. It’s a game with no winners and there is no walkthrough.
One of the ways this happens in the real world is the policing of black women’s hair.
100 billion dollar movies don’t usually reflect the versatility of black hair but Black Panther did and it was so welcome.
I came across this infuriating picture just after I’d seen Black Panther. This meme serves no purpose other than to divide and shame black women who wear weave. Black Panther wasn’t a divisive movie. It brought people all around the world together. Together we dived into an afro-futuristic idea of what could’ve been. (This includes a black woman being able to enjoy wearing fly ass weave and wigs without having their cultural identity questioned… unless you want a quick wig to the face, stop.
Contrary to Dolezal belief, there is no list of boxes to check before society acknowledges you as a black woman. It’d be nice if people could stop saying stuff like this.
So, why is this movie revolutionary for me?
There weren’t any negative tropes in the movie; the main female characters comprised a genius, a spy, a queen and a military general.
I got to see a movie where black women were integral to the narrative, not as a sidekick or a sassy friend but as individuals with agency. Frankly, without them, Kilmonger would’ve totally been able to carry out his totalitarian regime. The women of Wakanda were able to express their opinions and respected each other’s choices. There was very little focus on the romantic relationship between T’Challa and Nakia (and arguably not enough fleshing out of the relationship between W’Kabi and Okoye).
Nonetheless, usually when we see ‘strong female characters’ they tend to exhibit stereotypically masculine traits. In Black Panther, these women were strong female characters who lived in a society where femininity and masculinity were equally respected. Black Panther could serve as an example for future representations of black women in all media.
What did you think about the Women of Wakanda? Were they everything you hoped for? If not, what was lacking?
Written by Yasmeen Ojeleye
Edited by Alexander Ellis