WARNING! The following contains spoilers for both Black Panther and Infinity War!
There's no denying that King T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) would never have captured Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and defeated Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), had it not been for the incredibly badass women in his life.
His sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) makes his high-end gadgets, his bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira) leads the Dora Milaje, his mother Ramonda offers him guidance, and his old friend Nakia risks her life to steal one of the Heart-Shaped Herbs that Killmonger is intent on burning. Marvel Studios' Black Panther is about powerful women, just as much as it's about the newly-crowned Wakandan king coming to terms with his new, royal role.
“I think you could argue they are more important,” said the film's director and co-writer Ryan Coogler in a chat with Variety. “There’s a whole section of the film where T’Challa is out of the movie and you’re just following the women. That’s one of my favorite parts of the movie when I watched it, and I didn’t expect that.”
This is a reference to the moment in the movie when Killmonger challenges T'Challa for the throne and wins in combat, throwing his cousin's body off a waterfall. With the king presumed dead, his mother, sister, Nakia, and Agent Ross must flee the capital city and take refuge with M'Baku and the Jabari Mountain Tribe, who had recovered T'Challa's body.
After that, it's the women that really save the day with Shuri teaching Ross how to drive one of the hovercrafts and Okoye stopping a rampaging rhino in its tracks. If the king should ever bite the bucket for real (Infinity War notwithstanding), any one of them would be more than capable of taking on the position of Wakanda's ancient protector. Indeed, Coogler is totally down to do a female Black Panther film, should the situation ever arise.
“Oh man,”he said. “That would be amazing if the opportunity came up. They did it in the comic-book version.”
In the comics, Shuri was trained in the ways of the Panther by her older brother, who believed that there might come a time when she would need to lead the country. As a result, she became a talented fighter with a strong will. Nevertheless, she was always jealous of her brother's title and was therefore not granted the powers of the hero after consuming the Heart-Shaped Herb while showing arrogance in the presence of the Wakandan Panther God.
Still, this all occured at a time when T'Challa was in a coma, so Shuri took up the mantle anyway when the villain Morlun threatened to destroy their country. After saving Wakanda and reviving her brother in a humble and selfless way, Shuri got a second chance from the deity, who finally grants her the powers of the Black Panther.
Turning Shuri into the Panther has a heavy precedent, but there's a persistent theory that, given her massive intellect, she will take over the position of Iron Man, if Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) dies in Avengers 4.