It's been two years since the release of Black Panther. I recently watched it again, wondering if I could still enjoy it as much as I did the first. Unfortunately, the same fervor I felt before is no longer there, and aspects in which the movie struggles are even more glaring; however, what it got right, I appreciate even more. The women of Black Panther remain the best parts of it, especially Okoye and Nakia, two characters who could be the stars of their own respective films.
I've always been drawn to the Blaxploitation films of the '70s because it introduced front and center Black heroines getting things done. Nakia and Okoye are also the evolved composites of the characters who came before them — your Cleopatra Joneses, Foxy Browns, Coffys, Rosie Cravers, Friday Fosters — and the best parts involve them getting to interact on-screen together. It's something none of those Blaxploitation heroines were able to do, and a huge reason why I can still appreciate Black Panther for what it is two years later.
1973's Coffy starred its titular character as a nurse turned vigilante who took revenge on an entire organization that hooked her 11-year-old sister on heroin. Essentially, she decided to take matters into her own hands because no one else was doing anything — exactly what Nakia was up to at the beginning of Black Panther, doing what she could to help those facing hardships beyond the Wakandan border before T'Challa interrupted her mission, forcing her to blow her cover.
Two years later, Nakia's life as a spy is still worth exploring and deserves it's own movie, honestly. She was more than right about her stance on Wakanda needing to extend a helping hand and took it upon herself to do the work instead of waiting.
Okoye, meanwhile, definitely bears a resemblance to Cleopatra Jones, cool and levelheaded, and who looked like she was always ready for a photoshoot even after killing a few men. In Black Panther, Okoye didn't break a sweat during her fight in the casino. She looked utterly unbothered while car surfing during the chase through the streets of South Korea. She didn't even miss a beat after using her wig like Captain America's shield (and the utter improvisation of the moment is something any Blaxploitation heroine, but especially Cleopatra Jones, could appreciate).
What I love best about Okoye is that even though she was the lead general for the Dora Milaje, she wasn't devoid of emotion. She appeared visibly upset after the disagreement she has with Nakia about what to do next. The friendship between the two is visible and independent of the male lead.
Even though they both had different ideas of what to do after Erik Killmonger comes into power, they still managed to come together when it comes to making sure he didn't prosper. Not only is Wakanda better for this, but the entire film is.
Shuri and Queen Ramonda are just as crucial to the Black Panther. Bast bless Shuri for trying to move her brother and Wakanda further through the power of technology, and we don't talk enough about how major it was that Queen Ramonda suggested that it be Nakia who takes the heart-shaped herb herself to assume the mantle of the next Black Panther. Nakia declines, but it would have been pretty interesting to see Nakia take on the powers herself and be the one to defeat Killmonger.
Ultimately, it's T'Challa's movie, but it's not much of a movie at all without the involvement of these women — and the Blaxploitation heroines who came before them would be happy to see such an all-star team band together to save the day.