Who Are the Dora Milaje

The Dora Milaje play a huge role in Marvel’s Black Panther. You can see them clad in red throughout the trailers, fighting Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger and being all badass at King T’Challa’s side. They leave quite an impression.

But who are these beautiful warrior women? Where did they come from? And what are they all about? Well, never fear. Here’s a rundown of the facts and history from the comics that you’ll need to know.

Who Are the Dora Milaje?

Personally, my love for the Dora Milaje began with Marvel’s World of Wakanda series. Before then, I’d never encountered these warrior women. I immediately leapt at the chance to learn more, because as a bald black woman myself, I needed to know just who these fierce women were and what they stand for.

The Dora Milaje (meaning “adored ones”) are the female warriors who protect the king and the royal family of Wakanda. These women are the best and the strongest from the 18 villages all over the nation. They’re recruited young and trained away from home at the royal palace. The women are also seen as brides-in-training of T’Challa (King of Wakanda and the Black Panther himself). He is to choose from the ranks of the Dora Milaje to find his queen.

This practice keeps the peace within Wakanda, since each corner of the nation is represented at the King’s side. The Dora Milaje aren’t just bodyguards – they’re also a secret service-like team who protect the interests of their country. Naturally, the “Adored Ones” are among of the most skilled fighters in the Marvel Universe. Well-versed in martial arts, weaponry, and diplomacy, these women are a force to be feared and admired.

From Supermodels to Soldiers

Christopher Priest, the comic book writer touted as “The Man Who Made Black Panther Cool,” says he based the Dora Milaje on supermodels Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell: “The first time we see [Black Panther] is not in the costume, but in Armani silk with a shaved head, flanked by Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell – famous models the Dora Milaje were based upon.”

When they first appeared in the comics, the Dora Milaje looked very much like their model inspirations, with long flowing hair, fabulous flowing dresses, and high heels. They were a far cry from how they’re now seen in the new Marvel film and recent comic book iterations. Clad in full armor, wearing face paint, and rocking shaved heads, these women are presented as true soldiers.

Comic Book Origins

The first appearance of the Dora Milaje was in Marvel Comics’ Black Panther #1, written by Christopher Priest with art by Mark Texeira. Prior to that, there were warrior women present in Black Panther comics, but they weren’t officially Dora Milaje until Priest took over.

On his blog, Priest talks about how the idea of the Dora Milaje evolved out of the need to show the discord in Wakanda: “The concept of the Dora Milaje (Wakandan for ‘Adored Ones’) evolved out of the brilliant work of Panther scribe Don McGregor, who theorized Wakanda was actually made up of a great many indigenous tribes, and that not all tribes liked each other.”

The hero and king, constantly trying to keep the peace, decides to have girls from each of his nation’s tribes sent to the Golden City to unite as an army and protect Wakanda and the Royal Family. The Dora Milaje exist in the comics as visual representations of the peace and strife within T’Challa’s home.

The First Dora Milaje

Nakia (played by Lupita Nyong’o in the film) and Okoye (played by Danai Gurira) were the first Adored Ones both loyal to the royal family and T’Challa himself. Nakia more so than Okoye, especially when she began to fall in love with the King. When her affections lost out to another woman, Monica Lynne, Nakia did the unforgivable and threw her romantic rival out of a fighter jet (because comics). Nakia was banished from the ranks of the Dora Milaje and was eventually recruited by Killmonger under the alias of Malice.

It was Priest’s hope all along to make one of the Adored Ones a great foe for Black Panther. “From the very beginning, we planned to have one of the girls go nuts and evolve into one of Panther’s deadliest villains,” the writer revealed on his blog. And that he did. I mean, throwing someone out of a jet…I think Nakia officially went dark side after that.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther

In 2016, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze started a new era of Black Panther at Marvel Comics, and ushered in more visibility for the fierce female warriors of Wakanda. Not only are they more present, but the Dora Milaje have become more than bodyguards and potential brides to T’Challa. They’re given agency and their own stories within the Wakandan landscape.

In the first issue of this iteration of Black Panther, we’re introduced to Aneka and Ayo, two former Dora Milaje warriors who’ve fallen in love with one another. Not only is it revolutionary to have two queer black women in love in a major Marvel Comic, but in Wakanda, it’s looked down on (to say the least!) for the Dora Milaje – women who’ve sworn themselves to the king – to declare their love of anyone else…especially each other. Talk about a debut!

Their love is tested when Aneka is sentenced to death by the Queen Mother Ramonda. Ayo, who fought diplomatically to save her girlfriend’s life and failed, decides to use the Midnight Angel armor prototype (imagine a more high tech Iron Man suit) to break Aneka out of prison. The duo then create their own society called No One Man, a group full of women who were tired of being victims under a failing Monarchy.

This is one of the most radical storylines in Coates’ Black Panther and the strongest element the series has going for it.

World of Wakanda

In this 2017 miniseries, Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates focus on the Dora Milaje, specifically Ayo and Aneka. Ayo is already present in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – you may remember her as the scene-stealing bodyguard in Captain America: Civil War, where she was played by Florence Kasumba. She returns in the Black Panther film.

Ayo and Aneka’s story here begins as a prequel to the developments in the main Black Panther series. World of Wakanda focuses on the recruitment and training of these women and how they fight to protect Wakanda when the Black Panther is abroad, something that is happening more and more often.

Soon, the Dora Milaje find out about attacks on women in neighboring villages, but are helpless to stop it. Even the Black Panther turns a blind eye to this strife. Realizing their commitment isn’t just to the royal family but to all of Wakanda, the Adored Ones split into different task forces and take the solving of the crimes against the women of Wakanda into their own hands. Naturally, this ends with Ayo and Aneka’s story at the beginning of Coates’ run on Black Panther. I know it’s confusing, but you know…comics!

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