While the title of Marvel Studios’ upcoming film is Black Panther, the female cast members are really the standout characters of the film. All have their roles to play, but none of them adhere to the tired old tropes of what a female character is supposed to be in a superhero film. Because in Wakanda, the female characters are celebrated as queens, spies, bodyguards, and inventors. And trust me when I say this, the women of Wakanda are people you do not want to fight. Marvel fans got to see a glimpse of them in Captain America: Civil War where Ayo stepped in front of Black Widow and threatened to forcibly remove her if she did not get out of T’Challa’s way.
Now we get to see more of that fearlessness in Black Panther. The film has not one, not two, not three, but four powerful female characters who are ready to step up and fight to protect and for honor. We had a chance to sit down with our fellow journalists during the film’s press junket where Lupita Nyongâ€™o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Angela Bassett (Ramonda), and Letitia Wright (Shuri) shared their thoughts on working with director Ryan Coogler on the film, and how it paved the way for more representation and culture to play a role in a film. Check out what they had to say here below.
In Black Panther, Nyong’o, Gurira, Bassett, and Wright all play strong women. But not in the traditional sense where it caters to the status quo. Their roles in the film are vital. They aren’t sexualized. No one judges them by their looks, what they wear, or what they do. They are equal to the men in the film.
Bassett felt proud that Marvel would support a story that embodied representation. “In African culture, they feel as if there is no king without a queen, and I think in this story, it highlights the queen. The warrior. The general. The young sister,” Bassett said. The actress mentioned how she took her family to see the film at the premiere and how they walked away proud seeing that they were represented in a respectful manner.
For Gurira, she was absolutely floored about what she was about to get into after reading the script. “You donâ€™t actually get to hear that oftenâ€¦and then it embodied with us being on the continent, women from the continent, but very developed, very complex,” Gurira said. “It was amazing.” After reading the script, she said she was excited to watch it, but she also gets to be in it.
Even the preparation for the role was something that excited Gurira, and during the entire production, there was a sense of pride that resonated with everyone.
“You get there, and youâ€™re like, â€˜Thatâ€™s happening today?!â€™ And it happened. You go to the restroom to wash your hands, and you look up and youâ€™re like, â€˜What the?â€™ It took me a few days, and then all of the girls start coming in, and theyâ€™ve all been balded, and then the pride started to grow. This pride, and this embracing of this symbol of power in these women and the beauty of how he wrote that moment. I love that moment where she doesnâ€™t want a wig. She doesnâ€™t want it covered. Her joy and her pride are walking in with her bald head with that tattoo on it. Thatâ€™s so subversive. So subversive in the right way. To say, â€˜Thatâ€™s not necessarily beauty. You donâ€™t have to have hair to be beautiful.’ So I thought that was really fun. There are so many great things I could say about Ryan developing these women, and allowed us to collaborate.â€
Wright says that how the script is written, the men are behind the women. The actress who plays Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and Wakanda’s ace inventor, said, “No one is undermined, like â€˜You shouldnâ€™t be in technology, and you shouldnâ€™t be in math.â€™ Theyâ€™re like, â€˜No, go ahead.â€™ Tâ€™Challaâ€™s says â€˜Go ahead, sis. This is your department, this is your domain. Kill it. Iâ€™m going to work with you to finalize it.â€™ Thatâ€™s the mentality of the king, and thatâ€™s brilliant.”
Boseman added to that,
“If you are talking about what Wakanda is and what it would take to progress to what we saw, even though we are talking about a fantasy, the idea of an unconquered nation that has not been tampered with, the idea of the next generation being smarter, being better than you, is a concept they would have evolved to. Even though she is in the same generation, she is my younger sister, she benefits from what I have reached, so you want your sons and daughters to be better than you are. That’s a Wakandian concept. My oldest siblings, they raised me, and you see the genius inside that come from the people after you, and if you have an ancestral element, they are looking at you like ‘I know you are looking up to me, but we are looking up to you,’ and that is an African concept.
â€œWhat I love about the way this film represents women is that each and every one of us is an individual, unique, and we all have our own sets of power and our own agency,” Nyong’o said. “We hold our own space without being pitted against each other. I think thatâ€™s a very, very powerful message to send to children, both male and female.” The actress says that often times in movies, where women are pitted against each other. While there is that competitive spirit, Black Panther “freezes all of that.”
“We see women going about their business, and supporting each other and even arguing with each other,” Nyong’o said. “Having different points of view, but still not being against each other, and I think thatâ€™s extremely important. The fact that in this film thereâ€™s so many of us, we really get a sense of the fabric of Wakanda as a nation. We see women alongside men, and we see how much more effective a society can be if they allow women to explore their full potential.â€
But women aren’t only supported on camera, but behind the scenes as well. And it is not just for gender diversity hires. It’s because Coogler wanted the best person for the job. “Speaking for some of the folks who were involved with the film that arenâ€™t here. This film evolved from brilliant women all over, from start to finish,” Coogler said. “As I said, Kevin runs the studio, but he does it with his right and left hand. His right hand is Louis Dâ€™Esposito, and his left hand is Victoria Alonso, who is amazing. She was there from day one.”
“Our crew was just full of women who were hired because they were the best person for the job. They werenâ€™t hired because they were women, they were hired because they were the best for the job, and that was our cinematographer Rachel Morrison, our costume designer Ruth Carter, our production designer Hannah Beachler, and our first assistant director, who was responsible for getting everything going, Lisa Satriano. In post-production, this film was edited by Michael Shawver and Debbie Berman, whoâ€™s from South Africa. And finished by Victoria Alonso. Throughout that process, it was a constant process where Victoria would raise her hand in a script meeting and go, â€˜Yo, I donâ€™t think that should happen.â€™ And we were like, â€˜OK!â€™ You maybe zig where you should have zagged, and working with these amazing women, I was incredibly blessed to have these people, to have that perspective, to have their fingerprints all over it. That presence is â€“ what is it, over half of the population? It was there constantly, and there in full effect.â€
Black Panther opens in theaters on February 16, 2018.