Black Panther - The Feminist Movie of the Year
*SPOILERS ALERT IN THIS ARTICLE*
Black Panther is the feminist movie that Wonder Woman should have been.
In the build up to the release of Black Panther, the internet was a buzz with the excitement of Black people, and especially Black children, finally having superhero characters that they could relate to and look up to. Finally there was a Black superhero movie made by and starred in by Black people. The characters weren’t sidekicks, slaves, or stereotypes. They had depth and dimension. They had a kingdom. Black pride was on center stage-- not as an independent film or created as a white savior film. This was a block busting mainstream movie that proved that Black entertainment could be profitable.
And it was also the feminist movie of the year (decade? my lifetime?). Even before I entered the theatre I felt emotional about the women in this film. From the trailer I could see that they were strong, proud, capable characters. There was no hyper sexualization or fetish costumes. These were women I could look up to. Queens.
Just for comparison let me give a quick review of Wonder Woman which I found painful to watch. I’m going to skate past the fetish costumes that are completely impractical for battle. I’ll focus on the relationship between the two main characters/the lovers. Throughout the movie they were completely unable to have an intelligent conversation. He treated her as irrational and everything he said to her was to placate or mansplain. For her part she was single minded, doe-eyed, and slow to learn. While she had some impressively choreographed scenes, she didn’t seem to have any strategic training which one would expect to see in the sole heir to a warrior race. Most upsetting for me was that despite having her “humanity” shoved down our throats for two hours, It was the loss of the man she was attracted to that gave her the strength to fight back against Ares—not her passion about war or her principles about the value of life. Disappointing from start to finish.
Back to Black Panther. Let's start with the proportion of women to men with real speaking parts: there is almost a 50-50 split between men and women who aren't villains. I haven't done the math but other than the two main male characters it is possible women got more screen time. They certainly stole the movie.
In the love story it is the man who pines after the woman while she is willing to sacrifice being his queen in order to continue her humanitarian work. And this doesn't emasculate him in any way. Although he wants her by his side he doesn't ridicule or belittle her work in an attempt to get her to be with him. He is clearly and unashamedly proud of her. And this love story, charming as it is, is a minor back story while politics, national security, and Wakanda's place in the global community is the primary concern for both of them.
Nakia was smart, brave, compassionate, and decisive. When there is a crisis, she doesn't run to Ross (the white CIA man on the side of good) and say "there's been a coup! what do we do? help us!" She said "I'll save you if you can keep up." (I am paraphrasing... the script was better than that). The movie begins with her being pulled out of a mission to save women who were being trafficked. Nakia is a true feminist, using her privilege and power to protect women around the world.
And the general, Okoye. For someone who doesn't approve of the use of violence I was soooooooo attached to this character. First of all, she played it perfect: subtle, witty, and multidimensional (not easy for a military leader). She knew her power and her worth and was unapologetic about it. Ooo she gives me life. And during the mini-civil war when she was faced off with her lover said "would you kill me, my love?" she didn't hesitate with her spear pointed at his smirking face to say "For Wakanda? No question." The theatre I was in erupted with women's cheers, including mine. And he had the good sense to kneel at her feet and call off his soldiers. It didn't shame him to do it--he knew he was wrong and his strength was in admitting it and ending the fighting.
In fact, the only man who didn't value his partner was the "bad guy." Gender equality is better for everyone. Men are free from the toxic masculinity that limits their emotional range and boxes them into corners with no good choices left. Black Panther showed that men can maintain their self-respect without oppressing women and that in fact, when there is mutual respect and support, the most desirable results are possible.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take the time to praise Shuri, the Disney Princess of the movie (Disney owns Marvel, Marvel movie, she's a princess, so she's a Disney Princess). This is the Disney Princess I've literally been waiting for my entire life. I needed a princess I could look up to. Shuri was it. Brilliant-- easily the smartest character in the movie-- funny, smart-aleck, poised, brave, and loving. So many movies give the cleverest person in the room some sort of interpersonal deficiency but her character was a personable genius. She was a model for girls and women in STEM.
The best part of having all these amazing women in one movie was that it felt normal. It didn’t feel preachy or forced. These actresses were naturally and perfectly playing out the strength of women across the screen. This was the feminist movie we’ve been waiting for.
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist