Women are fierce in ‘Black Panther’
And unapologetically so, says one star.
BEVERLY HILLS – Black Panther’s Dora Milaje is taking fierce females on the big screen to the next level.
It’s one of the reasons director Ryan Coogler’s superhero movie is preparing to open late Thursday amid feverish anticipation, especially from female and AfricanAmerican moviegoers.
The story revolves around African ruler T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and his masked alter ego, Black Panther. The army T’Challa relies on when his reign in the progressive African country of Wakanda comes in question? That would be his all-female special force, the Dora Milaje.
Think of the Amazon warriors in Wonder Woman. These women are “unapologetically feminine and ferocious,” says Danai Gurira, who plays the Dora Milaje’s general.
Between Black Panther’s all-female army and lead characters played by Lupita Nyong’o (a Wakandan spy) and Letitia Wright (a teen tech wizard), “the representation of Black women in #BlackPanther made me feel seen,” tweeted African-American film critic ReBecca Theodore-Vachon after seeing the film. “Seen in a way other superhero movies have not done well.”
Coogler says the Dora Milaje was inspired by women in his own life.
“I pulled from examples of incredibly strong black women I have known in my life, from my mother to my aunts, my wife,” Coogler says. “These incredible women who are so multifaceted, they kind of carry society on their backs.”
Once girls see these warriors in action, they may be inspired to emulate the characters in bold ways.
After Zack Snyder’s DC film Justice
League got backlash for dressing Amazonian warriors in skimpy outfits, Coogler’s Black Panther shows there is another way to present a feminine, female superhero. She can wear sensible shoes while also rocking big lashes. She can have a tattooed scalp, and a red lip. She can be treated as equal to a man and not just be seen as a sex object.
Gurira’s Okoye, a confidant of T’Challa’s, and the rest of her legion wear what costume designer Ruth E. Carter describes as “a tabard in the front that’s supposed to be ancient (and) beaded in an ancient way so it looked like something they could pass down to their little Doras that are coming behind them.”
In Wakanda, the Dora Milaje wield incredible power: They’re consulted by men and other women in power. They fight bravely and end a fight morally. They’re respected for their intelligence, they’re philanthropic, they fall in love and they don’t let their love define them. And they don’t adhere to modern trap- pings of beauty standards.
The bald look is standard.
“I do know one of the execs from Marvel, she said her daughter went to her after seeing (a clip of Okoye) ages ago and (said), ‘I want to shave my head,’ ” Gurira says.
Look to a scene where Okoye has to wear a wig for a disguise. She’s visibly uncomfortable, and as the warrior begins fighting with a spear, she triumphantly throws the hair off her head.
It’s a subversive moment that had the audience at Black Panther’s premiere screening erupt in cheers.
“What does it mean that you’re wearing a wig and need to cover up your head? There’s so many ways that can be pulled apart. And the aesthetic — it could be a symbol of freeing yourself,” says Gurira, now sporting a super-short hairstyle. “It’s almost like a removal of a shackle and breaking free of a certain type of bondage.”
Care to give it a try?
“We’ve got some clippers,” Gurira teases. “My hair guy is down the hall.”
“I pulled from examples of incredibly strong black women I have known in my life. ... They kind of carry society on their backs.” Director Ryan Coogler On his inspiration for the Dora Milaje
‘PANTHER’ BY MARVEL STUDIOS
Okoye (Danai Gurira, left), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) are a force to behold.
Okoye (Gurira) leads the fierce all-female Dora Milaje.
The elite Dora Milaje are powerful in Wakanda, respected for their brains and brawn. MATT KENNEDY/MARVEL STUDIOS