Women are fierce in ‘Black Panther’

And un­apolo­get­i­cally so, says one star.

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Carly Mal­len­baum

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.

The in­spi­ra­tion

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.

Pow­er­ful mo­ment

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

PHO­TOS 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

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