Black Panther has been out for a couple of weeks. More than enough time for you to have watched it several times over and for us to sink our claws into the body of this amazing film. I know, I know; you have read tens of reviews about how incredible this movie is. This isn’t a review as such but a discussion and analysis of its impact on Black British culture and the modern woman.
In partnership with Disney, Marvel and Vamp UK, I was given the chance to take two lucky ladies to the European Premiere, and was it an experience.
Long before its debut, Black Panther had sent a shockwave of pride throughout the black community. With its powerful choice of cast and director, it was no surprise that it became one of the most eagerly anticipated films of all time both figuratively and statistically.
Their impactful choices extended far beyond its pick of actors. One of the things most unique and impressive about Marvel and Disney’s approach was the importance of involving the black British community. It is very easy to forget all the external work that goes into a movie and its success. I applaud them for their assurance that the black British community were a priority in experiencing and celebrating the European Premiere.
Winners, Sawda and Carmela, who entered our competition by telling us which female character had the most impact on them, joined me for a private Disney UK event with canapes and an open bar. We networked with other invitees and influential people before heading to the premiere at Hammersmith Apollo.
The atmosphere was absolutely electric. Director, Ryan Coogler introduced the cast on stage before giving us an insight into what this movie meant to him.
From the involvement of content creators and writers to the choice of music played at the premiere, the night was the epitome of black excellence. As a Black British woman, I felt an overwhelming sense of culture and comfort, especially where in this climate, being black whilst being British doesn’t always offer those luxuries.
Keeping in line with the tone of our competition, for me, one of the most significant elements of Black Panther was the brush with which it painted women.
One of the most memorable and enjoyable scenes in the movie, was the high octane fight and chase scene set in the heart of Busan, South Korea’s gambling scene. Dora Milaje member and head general Okoye (played by Danai Gurira) removes her wig and throws it at her attacker, blinding him temporarily and proving it to be an extremely useful weapon.
This scene for me, meant much more than resourcefulness. Okoye’s comments prior to the fight scene were key. As she gracefully struts into the shot, she comments on how she felt “ridiculous”; a subtle paradoxical mirroring to some of the current battles women of colour face around their hair.
From the braided beauty who is told her hair isn’t professional enough, to the heroic hijabi who is frowned upon for her religious pride, women all over have been made to feel that their own hair or choice of “hairstyle” is negative if not conforming to European standards. Okoye’s clear and unequivocal stance, that she feels most comfortable bald, is delivered in a two fold explosion which sends the message that your best weapon is your choice. This challenging of hair constraints is further portrayed later on, by the distinct revealing of Queen mother, Angela Basset’s, beautiful ice grey dreadlocks making her look ethereal.
At present, the prohibition of dreadlocks and braids by employers is legal. Often deemed as being “unkempt”, dreadlocks are often looked down upon despite their ties to culture which makes this scene ever more powerful. Her intricately woven dreadlocks are complimented by the blankets of snow in the Jabari tribe, making her look like a goddess. Despite dreadlocks being attached to the image of the Caribbean and the Rastafarian culture, Queen mother’s ice grey dreadlocks make her look more than at home amongst the endless mountains of snow; as though she was a product of an environment far from what we would normally associate black roots with. This serves as a clear message that black hairstyles are nothing short of breath-taking and should never be considered out of place.
Nakia, played by Lupita also sends a similar message when in the same South Korean fight scene; in true badass style, she pulls off her high heels and uses one as a weapon to take down her male attacker. Weaponising the very concepts pushed onto women as a beauty standards was not accidental in my opinion. The cinematic shots that followed continued to draw on this message and offer us close ups of her powering a getaway car barefooted.
An entrenched extended metaphor that is woven through the entire film is the power shift onto the modern woman.
By the climatic final battle, it is impossible to miss the fact that the female characters serve as protagonists rather than sidekicks. Every key female character with fighting ability, had fought a main protagonist.
In the final fight, we see the Dora Milaje go head to head with villain, Killmonger and fair well despite the death of one as a result. The fight scene doesn’t pander to women or serve as a “can you tire out the villain whilst the hero takes a water break” kind of scene. Instead it is a high suspense battle that was almost won by the female warriors. Shuri, T’challa’s sister (Letitia Wright) who has incredible intelligence and wit, is key in delivering this message too. Although she is not a fighter, she weaponises her education and intelligence to prove somewhat a worthy opponent for Killmonger for a short while. She is known across the nation and to their enemies as a huge threat due to her superior knowledge advancing the strength of Wakanda and The Black Panther himself.
I mean, we all know that women make everything better.
A long history of being viewed as the weaker sex and coming out as runners up in the fight towards equality is challenged here. It is also contested in the opening scene where Lupita and Okoye dominate the kidnapping scene. (A poignant representation of the Boko Haram kidnappings). Despite T’Challa appearing as the initial saviour, we understand that Nakia had it under control all along and that Okoye had to finish the mission when T’Challa becomes incapacitated by Nakia’s beauty and presence. The dominance of the two women is juxtaposed later on in the scene between Okoye and her partner W’Kabi who chose to side with Killmonger with devastating results. When going head to head, W’Kabi played by Daniel Kaluuya, drops to his knees in surrender at the news that Okoye would be willing to fight and kill him for the good of Wakanda.The message here challenging the notion that women are fools in love that make emotional decisions rather than logical ones. Moreover, the deep symbolism of W’Kabi kneeling before Okoye is important. This presents us with a rare incidence of a man kneeling or surrendering to a woman. The only ever time we see this arguably is when a woman is proposed to.
Finally and in my opinion, the most powerful and yet simple example of Black Panther’s commitment to recognising the strong modern day woman, is one of the closing scenes between T’Challa and Lupita.
T’Challa turns to Nakia and tells her that she would make a great queen if she wasn’t so stubborn. She not only refutes this by saying her stubbornness is what would make her a great queen but also interjects with a powerful “if that’s what I wanted.”
I’m sure that like myself, you have watched Black Panther multiple times, but I urge you to watch it again. This time with a new intention to seek out some of the powerful messages throughout. As well as an important representation for the black community, this movie delivered us layers upon layers of significant portrayal. It is my hope that Black Panther will be a leading example of what representation looks like for the black community, for women and for other protected characteristics moving forward.
“ More connects us than separates us.”
Written by Monique Monrowe