Image Credit: marvelcinematicuniverse.com
The “Hidden Figures” of the Marvel Film, Black Panther
By Jen Threat
There has been so much love and reverence for the film, Black Panther due to the positive portrayal of female characters in the film. The women show strength, intelligence and confidence in their decisions. These are traits that are not often shown for African-American female characters in television, film or books.
As African-American women, we have seen these traits by women in our families, in our communities and in our history. Intentional or not by director, Ryan Coogler or screenwriter, Joe Robert Cole, these women of Wakanda pay homage to women that we’ve heard about all our lives. Like the movie, “Hidden Figures,” which highlighted overlooked African-American women in NASA, Black Panther shines a spotlight on the power and leadership of women in this film and history. There are many comparisons that can be made between Black Panther’s Wakanda women and historical figures in African-American history.
She surpassed the knowledge of everyone around her with her expertise in STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math), including her brother, the legendary Black Panther portrayed by Chadwick Boseman. Shuri, depicted by actress Letitia Wright, is a nod to Katherine Johnson, the real-life math whiz, whose calculations helped John Glenn and other astronauts launch into galaxies beyond Earth. As Shuri aided for the FBI agent in flying the virtual plane, Katherine Johnson helped prepare astronauts for take off and guided them back home safely.
Lupita Nyong’o embodies Nakia, a female spy. Nakia is able to change and adapt based on her environment. We often do this as African-American women. We often “code switch” by speaking in one tone in professional environments and adding more flavor to our language among family and friends. This character represents leaders of the civil and women’s rights movements, like Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer. These women believed that woman could lead, work for themselves and contribute to the cause on the behalf of women, who may not been able to speak up for themselves.
Actress Danai Gurira fiercely encompasses the spirit of the Wakanda warrior, Okoye. She is the Head of Special Forces a.k.a. The General. Her leadership was reminiscent of Harriet Tubman. Armed with a spear and faced with choosing her country, Wakanda, over her beloved male warrior, she would choose Wakanda. Harriet Tubman, a former slave, guided many to freedom through the Underground Railroad. She was faced with slaves wanting to return back to their masters. Shotgun in hand, her stern warning was to shoot them first, instead of letting them return to their masters. Any slave returns would mean death for all and she was unwilling to risk that for those that yearned for freedom.
Queen Mother Ramonda
Regal as always, Angela Bassett is Queen Mother Ramonda. This character held the weight of the world on her shoulders: the death of her husband, the threat of death to her son and her role as queen of the great Wakanda. This character represents the “strong black women” that we were all taught to be as little girls and saw as examples by our mothers, Big mamas, aunties and neighbors. Women in our lives have experienced discrimination and suffered tragedies, but somehow triumphed with grace and dignity.
Most importantly, the movie demonstrates that women can work together for a greater purpose. No catfights here. The movie, “Black Panther” has been phenomenal in bringing to light, the power and beauty of African-American women. The secret is we already knew that we possessed this “Black Girl Magic.” Now, everyone else is aware, too.