Black Panther has captivated the world’s attention since its February 2018 release. The film has amassed over one billion dollars in global box office revenue, attracting audiences ranging from dedicated Marvel fans to people who don’t like superheroes but do see value in representation. Black Panther-inspired spirited debates about the characters’ moral compasses and social commentary embedded in the storyline. Most importantly, Black Panther gave millions of people joy in the midst of an often cruel and chaotic world. I am one of those people.
I am a Marvel fan and a staunch supporter of films with Black women’s stories at the forefront. The anticipation of seeing the agile Dora Milaje spring to life intensified as I got closer to opening weekend. I wondered how Nakia’s journey and Shuri’s brilliance would play into T’Challa’s transition toward becoming a king. More than anything else, I wanted reprieve from my current existence. Wakanda is an idyllic oasis where Black people don’t have to survive a daily cycle of systemic racism, targeted violence, and microaggressive behavior. People who look like me can flourish emotionally, spiritually, and technologically while still honoring the rich legacy of their ancestors. Wakanda’s perfect blend of Afrofuturism and ancient traditions is void of patriarchal standards, allowing women to thrive and be both valued and respected by their male counterparts. Wakanda is a Black woman’s paradise.
Black Panther was more than a channel for escapism. It has been a source of balance as I wage a perilous internal war. My depression pendulum has been swinging since childhood, ranging from a period of minimally functioning because of suicidal thoughts, to a thirtysomething who seems to have it “together” as a freelance pop culture writer, mom, wife, and dreamer. My inner layers consist of constant anxiety, self-doubt, nonexistent energy, insomnia, and incessant criticism despite my “wins.” Black Panther’s blissful effect on most of the world has helped each day become more tolerable. It was thrilling to see Chadwick move like air and have another excuse to stan for Michael B. Jordan. But, the women of Wakanda quickly became the source of my strength during one of the hardest seasons of my life. They made me laugh, cry, smile, and helped me gather the courage I needed to keep moving forward. Okoye, Nakia, and Shuri reminded me of truths about my life’s journey and taught me invaluable lessons about myself as a woman.
Okoye – The Realization
Okoye is everything. The leader of the Dora Milaje. The voice of reason and respected confidant of T’Challa. The thrower of wigs and spears. A layered, fierce, beautiful, and mesmerizing heroine. Watching her wield her weapon with expertise felt like salve to my emotional wounds, numbing the sting of an aching pain as I swelled up with pride. Her presence and pivotal role in this story was validating and a confidence booster. Her command of her army and ability to make W’Kabi honor her by standing down in the midst of chaos gave me goosebumps and wide smiles. So, this is what the world could be if people truly listened to and respected women! Okoye’s first scene showed her navigating T’Challa’s ship while sitting in a lotus position. In my mind, her chakras were aligned, her skin was moisturized to perfection, and she was confidently in charge of their trip. She looked and felt like the peace I wanted to obtain.
Okoye’s reevaluation of what true loyalty to Wakanda meant was the most compelling part of her development in Black Panther. After Killmonger captured the throne, she dealt with the inner turmoil of knowing this rage-fueled man would bring chaos to her peaceful country by waging worldwide wars. She felt uncomfortable with challenging her preconceived truth about what she should do as the Dora Milaje leader, even when it was detrimental to her own emotional health. I loosely related this to my fight against depression. As a Black woman, many of the “truths” I was taught were extremely flawed, particularly the deeply engrained belief that I must “do it all” and put everyone else first. It is a dehumanizing message which has contributed to the frequent breakdowns in my emotional well-being. My former truth told me I needed to keep pushing along and to silently weather the storms like my mother and grandmother. It said I had forfeited the right to put myself first because I had kids. Okoye’s truth told her she had to serve whomever sits upon the throne because that is her duty. We both needed to make a choice.
Okoye chose to fight for what felt right in her heart. T’Challa’s reappearance and Killmonger’s refusal to finish ritual combat were the final catalysts toward her revolution, but her conversation with Nakia planted the initial seeds of change. She urged Okoye to be loyal to her country (and inner voice) instead of a figurehead and changed the way she viewed her role a leader. In the end, Okoye faced this “monster” and fought for freedom. I am blessed to have a Nakia who gave me sage advice. Now, it’s my priority to take care of myself by getting the professional help I need and break harmful Black woman stereotypes with my children.
Nakia – The Hope
Nakia makes me want to live. She’s everything I aspire to be as a woman, lover, fighter, and agent of change. I want to raise my daughters with her spirit — a true friend and feminist in every sense of the word. She had a keen understanding of her life’s calling and pursued her passion to help oppressed people. No one, including T’Challa, could prevent her from doing what she felt in her heart. She reminded viewers that we get to choose the type of person we want to be and even our idols have flaws. Nakia is loved passionately by T’Challa — a man who supported her vision and found a way to help her continue to change the world. His love for her reminds me of the love I am fortunate to receive from my awesome husband. She affirmed that I deserve to be surrounded by people who listen to me, value my opinions, love the authentic me, and support my endeavors.
Nakia was about her business, but this didn’t stop her from being a compassionate, supportive person who was willing to risk her life for a friend. She stole the heart shaped herb and appealed to M’Baku, thereby saving T’Challa’s life. Nakia also convinced T’Challa to step out of the shadows and help others the right way by arming them with knowledge and providing needed resources in the community. And, it was uplifting to see the good traits I possess mirrored onscreen through her character. She’s a pragmatic optimist who inspires me to keep going and do what edifies me as a person. Thank you Nakia for liberating T’Challa, Okoye, Wakanda, and women like me all over the world.
Shuri – The Light
My new favorite Disney princess, Shuri, gave me mixed emotions. I mourned for who I could have become if I had seen young women like her onscreen as a child. I didn’t see or know any Black women who pursued STEM careers, so I saw them as rare anomalies. I never had the confidence or the assurance that I could be a Shuri. But I’m thrilled to see her give hope to my oldest daughter who wants to be an engineer. Shuri is humorous, inquisitive, brilliant, and constantly using process improvement to make things more efficient. Her moments with T’Challa in her lab and hilarious one-liners gave me the kind of deep, roaring laughter I share with my closest friends. I needed those moments of levity and joy to cut through bleak days. She encouraged me to keep being a lifelong learner who acquires new skills through feeding my curiosity. The magnitude of what she means to young girls who want to be scientists makes me excited for the next generation’s achievements.
One of Shuri’s most interesting creations was Black Panther’s latest suit, which uses kinetic energy built up from blows and bullets to redirect at an enemy. Actor Winston Duke (M’Baku) noted its significance in a GQ interview, saying the power to use something meant to harm a person for good is an allegory for oppressed people. Shuri’s design made me think about my own life and my long-term struggles with depression and anxiety. It is a heavy burden, but I often turn it around to support others by being honest about my struggles. If I can help at least one other person, especially a young Black girl or woman, acknowledge her issues and seek help then I have done something empowering and positive.
I don’t expect to be transformed into a new being who never struggles again. It’s going to be a road filled with difficult decisions, doubts, breakthroughs, and setbacks. But the women of Wakanda have emboldened me to move forward for another day. Wakanda Forever!