Black Panther

Women rule

How can one Marvel movie have more female representation than all Marvel movies combined? That’s both a positive declaration for Black Panther and a damning statement for Marvel’s films pre-Wakanda. I know why Marvel strayed away from proper representation of women in their films – for too long, major studios believed the only market for superhero films were men and white men in particular. The comic book industry as a whole believed this; most superheroes are white men, and the women, regardless of their race, are sexualized and ill-defined, often only there to be the damsels the heroes have to save. It’s toxic masculinity at its most marketable.

However, Black Panther is a film that breaks with that insulting tradition. The film could have easily focused on the men of Wakanda, but instead, the women are given the forefront. They are the warriors, the technological minds, and the shapers of a country. While T’Challa is the king, the women around him are just as in control of Wakanda as he is.

T’Challa himself is a break from the traditional Marvel hero. Other Marvel films feature heroes who only relate to women in romantic terms, thereby flattening the types of relationships they could have with female characters. The woman herself is also flattened into a stereotype; instead of being a well-rounded character, she’s just an object that does emotional labor for the hero. However, T’Challa has complex relationships with every woman in his life. He’s not intimidated by female prowess; in fact, he welcomes the presence of strong women in his life, from his Dora Milaje bodyguards and his spy girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) to his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and his and overprotective little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). Even half of his royal counsel are women. Aside from Captain America, T’Challa is the only other Marvel superhero who truly views women without bias. He sees them as true equals, which is so refreshing.

The women themselves are multifaceted. Shuri might be a princess, but she’s also a technological genius who delights in making fun of her brother. Nakia is romantically linked to T’Challa, but she is her own person, refusing to marry him for the sake of her drive to protect as many people around the world as she can. Okoye might be the general of the Dora Milaje, but she’s also a woman in love with W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), Wakandan head of the border tribe and T’Challa’s best friend. Despite her love for him, she is never shown as weakened because of it; on the contrary, she tells him she’ll kill him “without question” if it’s a matter of his life over the sanctity of Wakanda. It’s telling that both T’Challa and W’Kabi respect and love their partners’ independence, never forcing them to confine to submissive roles.

Black Panther’s female cast shames the rest of the MCU, and hopefully because of this, Marvel will endeavor to create better roles for women going forward. It shouldn’t have taken a decade for the studio to announce female-led films like Captain Marvel and Black Widow. Thanks to Black Panther, Marvel now knows there is a market for films starring female superheroes.

Black Panther Trailer

Killmonger’s plight

I’m joining the chorus of critics who say Marvel has finally fixed their villain problem with Killmonger. Killmonger is, indeed, the most sympathetic Marvel villain ever, handedly stealing Loki’s mantle. What makes Killmonger so relatable is that his struggles are the same struggles many African-Americans wrestle with throughout their lives.

Yes, his story is universal in that he was abandoned as a child by his own family, but the cultural specificity of his trauma is what makes him less of a villain and more of a “revolutionary” (to use Michael B. Jordan’s description) gone astray. Killmonger represents the pain of a people who have lost their heritage through colonization and enslavement, and that feeling of being lost has survived through the centuries, still affecting us who struggle to find their way in a society that still functions on the code set up by colonization and Jim Crow. While his method to find himself results in inexcusable violence, his yearning for a place to call home is a real existential wound many African-Americans have.

Even Kilmonger’s violence towards others, including his violence towards black women, can be seen as a byproduct of white supremacy’s psychological effects on the African diaspora. Much of what is colloquially called “black on black crime” is a manifestation of misplaced anger resulting from unresolved mental wounds passed down through generations. The transference of hatred from slave master to slave has become its own American legacy, resulting in the collective black body to have a perverse yearning to destroy itself through various means.

Killmonger exhibits the same self-destructive bent, killing his black girlfriend and as he himself said, his own African brothers and sisters. It makes sense to many viewers that Killmonger isn’t a villain in the traditional sense because he is also a victim himself. He is an astute and tragic commentary on the state of the unhealed black psyche coupled with internalized self-hate and supremacist tactics.

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About the Author

Monique Jones runs JUST ADD COLOR, a site focusing on race and culture in entertainment. She has written for Ebony, Tor, Black Girl Nerds, The Nerds of Color.