On top of being a movie that is led by a primarily black cast, Black Panther is also a movie loaded with strong women. Entertainment Weekly sat down with four of the main women of Black Panther: Angela Bassett as the Queen Mother Ramonda, Lupita Nyong’o as the warrior Nakia,Danai Gurira as the head of the Dora Milaje Okoye, and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s brilliant inventor younger sister Shuri. Women are inventors, warriors, and so much more in the Wakanda culture, so when Bassett was asked what makes such a perfect place for so many resilient women, she says it goes back to the core of their culture.
“It’s a nation that respects and reveres women. They think of us not just as Queen but Queen Mother. Mother is nurturer and the first teacher. That position is embraced. She’s not someone who is off to the side. Every mature woman is your auntie or your mother.”
Gurira went on to say that contemporary African cultures are very similar, so fiction is much closer to fact than one might think in a movie about super heroes.
“And in contemporary African cultures, it’s exactly that. It doesn’t matter if she’s a literal mother or not, an older woman is considered with respect. If you go into a store and you’re greeting someone or calling out to someone you call them ‘amai’ in my country. [She was born in Iowa, but grew up in Zimbabwe.] That’s something Wakanda brought to the forefront that was beautiful.”
Wakanda is an undiscovered country that was never conquered and never had to change because of outside cultural influences. It gave everyone involved the freedom of imagining a world that is ahead of ours not only in technology, but in gender roles, as Gurira said.
“They were a nation uninterrupted. They got to go through their full evolution. Other countries on the continent were very interrupted and traumatized through colonization. Wakanda didn’t have that disruption. It was such an advanced nation, it actually allowed for evolution of gender roles. It recognized that you allow all your citizens to advance to their full potential.”
Wright hopes that people watching the movie will see what can be accomplish when society is allowed to progress and could use this movie to hope for the future.
“Wakanda as a nation is so open to forward movement. It will, hopefully, inspire us in reality to go ‘Okay, cool, don’t limit the women to what they want to do.’ [Gestures to Lupita] For example, Nakia is allowed to go out and be a spy and gather information for her nation, and she gets to choose whether she stays or goes. She’s not controlled by anyone. That’s powerful. She’s motivated by what’s in her soul and what she wants to do.”
Wright very much enjoyed the fact that despite that Shuri is younger (they say she is sixteen in this movie), his sister, and a girl, T’Challa never questions her technology or inventions. She is the one who outfits him with everything, and that requires a lot of trust.
“Her brother doesn’t look down on her like, ‘Ugh, you’re a kid, you can’t make a suit for me.’ He’s like, ‘No, this is your domain! Kill it! Do a great job and make sure I’m protected. And I will respect that.’ Life for women in Wakanda is beautiful. It’s inspirational. It’s something I’m gonna take from watching this film in my own life and for the future of my children as well, [laughs] when I have a family.”
For Nyong’o, seeing the society of Wakanda was just further proof that sexism isn’t something human beings are born with, but learned from society and people around them.
“It was such a breath of fresh air seeing men and women living in their power with out one dwarfing the other. To me it was reflective of the fact that sexism is learned. To see a society where that’s not the focal point, where gender is not the fabric with which society is built and the delineations of sex are not oppressive, that’s really cool. And it’s possible.”
Not only seeing women, but women of color out front and being powerful can be extremely influential on the next generation and even older people. One only needs to talk to the many women that burst into tears during Wonder Woman last year, and Gurira believes that this really helps people people hope for a better future.
“Why not! It really does make you say, ‘Why Not?’ To me, it’s about equality, and allowing each gender to come to the fullness of their potential without discriminatory hindrances. That is what this nation figured out.”
This movie is coming out in a time of huge social movements, and while Nyong’O sees those movements as important, she also knows that this fight is far from over when it comes to equality among all people.
“I feel very strongly that change is not an event, it’s a process. What we see happening in this moment is pivotal. It’s not over. We cannot assess it yet. We have to keep going.”
Black Panther continues to receive praise from the press, and the rest of the press screening will be happening over the next four days or so. This movie is going to mean a lot to a lot of people — so no making fun of anyone who gets emotional while watching this.
Summary: T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.
Black Panther, directed Ryan Coogler, stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Martin Freeman. It will be released on February 16th.