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The evolution of the Dora Milaje, from comics to movies

Contributed by
Jun 6, 2018

“Would you kill me, my love? - W’Kabi
“For Wakanda... no question.” - Okoye

These two lines could arguably be the best lines in 2017's Black Panther. Not only are they significant for the two characters themselves and the film as a whole, but they also symbolize the documented evolution of the Dora Milaje. Over the last 20 years, the Dora Milaje have gone from ceremonial wives-in-waiting for a king twice their elder to fully actualized adult women with lives outside of their duty to the throne. Their growth is not only fascinating, but shows how characters can be improved upon regardless of their problematic beginnings. Sometimes they just need care and attention. 

The Dora Milaje were introduced by their creator Christopher Priest back in 1998 in Black Panther Vol.1, Issue #1. In that first appearance, they’re dressed in their best freakum dress with freshly silk pressed hair, an aesthetic that has changed drastically since. A lot of the description of the Dora Milaje comes from the voice of Everett Ross, since he's the character narrating the story in those earlier Black Panther issues. At one point, Ross actually says he’d be thrown in jail because, unlike T’Challa, he wouldn’t be able to control himself if he had two high school karate chicks to play with. Puke. The two Dora Milaje that Ross is speaking of are Okoye and Nakia, and both are stark departures from their cinematic counterparts. 

In the comics, Nakia is not the amazing spy who wants Wakanda to help their brothers and sister outside of the country. Instead, she is a young woman who becomes madly obsessed with T’Challa after he kisses her. T’Challa had been sent through a series of timeshifts by Mephisto and believed that he was enjoying a moment on the couch with Monica Lynne, but he was actually in the back of a limo with Nakia, at which point he wound up kissing her. This kiss sets up the Malice storyline, in which Nakia takes a page from A Thin Line Between Love and Hate with T’Challa. She tries to kill Monica Lynne, believing that the other woman standing in the way of T’Challa's true feelings for her. When T’Challa confronts her about what happened, she runs off and ends up in the company of Killmonger after her sky sled crashed. Eventually, she is genetically enhanced, becoming stronger and an accurate markswoman and adopts the mantle of Malice, a woman who claims T’Challa is her sole reason for continuing to exist. Unlike the Nakia in the movie, Nakia/Malice’s motivations are rooted in her toxic love for T’Challa. 

Nakia Black Panther

While Malice hasn’t been introduced in the MCU, at least not yet, a newly revised Nakia was. The Nakia of the Black Panther film is nothing like her comic counterpart. She is much older and it's very clear that her love of T’Challa is reciprocated — he did freeze, after all. Her work as a spy doesn’t center him or really involve him at all. She is her own woman and confident in who she is, not a misled lovesick teenager. 

The remixing of Nakia’s character is predominantly seen in the movie; however, there are comic examples of her growth in the Dora Milaje. In New Avenger #12, the Dora Milaje accuse T’Challa of lying to his sister about why he's in Necropolis. The stakes are already high due to Thanos’s armies invading and T’Challa has been working alongside Namor—until Namor attacks Wakanda. They question T’Challa's loyalty to Wakanda and ultimately tell him enough is enough. This scene in itself holds so much weight because the Dora Milaje have sworn their lives to protect T’Challa, but even they have their own moral limits. When T’Challa tests that limit by having brunchtime conversations with an enemy of Wakanda, they walk away with Queen Shuri, leaving T’Challa to deal with the fallout. It's a moment that indicates the Dora Milaje have agency outside of T’Challa and that they aren’t just blindly following their King simply because it’s their duty. 

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World of Wakanda and the more recent Black Panther comics run give the Dora Milaje even more development—especially Ayo and Aneka, two Dora Milaje who are in a romantic relationship. In fact, when we are introduced to them in Black Panther #1 (written by Ta’Nehisi Coates), Ayo is freeing an imprisoned Aneka, punished for killing a chieftain who was raping the women of his village. In World of Wakanda, we learn how Aneka and Ayo’s romance began and how both of them handle the relationship while being Dora Milaje. Their relationship is just as important, if not more important, than Okoye and W’Kabi’s, and hopefully we will get to see it onscreen in the Black Panther film sequels.

While the tense moment between Okoye and W’Kabi during the end of the major battle scene in the third act of Black Panther is impactful, there's a deleted scene from the movie that makes that interaction even more significant, adding more depth to both characters as well as their relationship. It involves both husband and wife having an intense conversation after Erik Killmonger takes the throne from T’Challa, powerfully portrayed by actors Danai Gurira and Daniel Kaluuya. W’Kabi expresss how fed up he is with his King letting him down when Okoye confronts him about being emotionless after T’Challa loses to Killmonger. The entire scene is emotionally charged and shows a raw vulnerability between husband and wife. Okoye’s frustration and love for her husband are better understood with that context. Her decision to place Wakanda over her marriage, as well as W’Kabi’s ultimate surrender, are indeed an impactful moment in their relationship and in the film.  

Both the scene on the battlefield and that deleted conversation between Okoye and W’Kabi put a permanent stamp on the Dora Milaje’s growth over the years. The in-depth view into who they are outside of their sworn duties to the King and Wakanda have made them more relatable and interesting, and it's been a beautiful evolution to witness. These badass women of Wakanda deserve it.