What The Women of Wakanda Teach Us About Unapologetic Femininity
By Charlene Ogu
Yes it’s late, but better late than never right! If you haven’t watched Black Panther, first of all where have you been and second of all there’s still time! There will be spoilers in here so go watch it then come back if you haven't already. The characters of Black Panther are impressive and mosaic, they were giving me a complex blend of morality and ethics, a touch of black culture and power, a hint of shade and some compelling themes.
But you’ve probably heard all that. I want to talk about the women of Wakanda! Yas, individuals, no supporting one dimensional characters here!
'My King, My Love' -General Okoye
These women are sure and powerful. And indeed they are feminine. With the prevalence of the effects of colonialism and western ideals around the world we usually plug the word feminine with anything soft-spoken and delicate and forget that different cultures have different expressions of femininity. The way it looks in Japan isn’t the same way it looks in France. And the way it looks in France isn’t the same way it looks in Ghana. Culturally we're at a place were most people are pretty confused with what femininity and masculinity actually mean. Are they social constructs or flexible characteristics? Are they in fact neither of those?
Now I don’t have the answers to all these pressing questions our society is facing but I can say it may not always be a feeling and has a lot to do with being authentic and who we are at our essence.
As we’re talking western ideals and mainstream ideas of feminity it would be a miss if I didn’t mention the stereotypes around black women (especially dark skinned women) that characterises them as angry, hyper-sexual and masculine. Stereotypes that have derived from initial encounters of Western colonisers with women from Africa who were semi-nude and in polygamous relationships, practices that were misunderstood and presumed to be indecent. The 'angry black women' a myth to keep women of colour silent about the social injustices of which they are vocal and passionate about and the masculine stereotype (that is patriarchal in nature) that masculinises power, and views femininity through a western lens that only has room for slim silhouettes and long hair .
'I would make a great queen because I am stubborn—if that’s what I wanted.' -Nakia
If we're being honest some of the more well known feminine attributes are patriarchal in nature. ‘Damsel in distress’ being in distress is on no occasion an attribute. ‘Nice’ Nice for what? In Black Panther we celebrate women who remind us that feminine looks beautiful and fierce in Wakanda, and that the expression of femininity and gender roles change culturally. These woman are women of substance and influence and remind us of historical women figures such as Njinga Mbandi (1581–1663), Queen of Ndongo and Matamba, Dahomey Amazons the female military of what is now known as the Republic of Benin (19th century) and Yaa Asantewa the military leader of Asante, Ghana during British colonialism.
'It is my duty to fight for who I... for the things I love.'
Okoye (played by Danai Gurira) with her bald head and tattoos does not fit western traditional standards of beauty but she is indeed beautiful, her strength and loyalty are to be admired. She is the protector of the King, highly esteemed and full of integrity. Nakia's (played by Lupita Nyong'o) courage, compassion and willingness to leave the comfort of Wakanda in order to help others shine throughout the movie. In a static encounter between Okoye and Nakia we see the collision of two moral values, but we also see two women who love and care for each other who are able to disagree in love whilst holding firm to what they believe in. No insecurity or fragility, just a passionate disagreement that doesn't belittle either one of them and a pivotal point in the movie that frames the moral debate of loyalty and revolution.
My heart is with you... I'm not a spy who can come and go as they so choose. I am loyal to that throne, no matter who sits upon it. What are you loyal to? -General Okoye
Princess Shuri (played by our very own Letitia Wright )keeps us entertained and is the genius that helps use the natural resources of the land to technologically advance Wakanda. Shuri is both intelligent, beautiful and witty, a relatable character for all the science and technology loving girls.
Then we have Ramonda, the Queen Mother (played by Angela Bassett ) who is composed, a guiding force who struggles with the death of her son, killed in front of her. Such imagery reminds us of Mother Mary at the cross and the weight of her grief. In the council of elders we see women who are respected and have a voice in the decision making processes that effect their community.
My son, it is your time. -Ramonda, Queen Mother
With the increased conversation about women and their portrayal especially in media we have more three dimensional roles women and we can see this in movies recently released such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi ( General Leia Organa, Rey, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo ), Wonder Woman, Lady Bird and Beatriz at Dinner. In all these roles we see that women are not one dimensional supporting roles who offer some relief to the main story of the lead.
This is the time to connect to stories of women from around the world and have a conversation about their experiences. Let's continue to support media that portrays women that we can relate to and aspire to and invest in narratives that display a complex array of female characters. Wakanda Forever!