By Samantha Anteau
Needless to say, “Black Panther” is shaping up to be one of the highest, if not the highest, grossing films of the year.
Both critics and audiences love it, and it has done what Wonder Woman did last year, but even more effectively: it has shown that superheroes are not just white men. “Black Panther” is helping to diversify a genre and franchise that has all but completely taken over the box office.
The most attention has tended to be focused on the wonderful things that “Black Panther” does for representation of African Americans in the superhero genre, and rightfully so.
With a main cast composed almost exclusively of black characters, “Black Panther” allows for a level of representation rarely seen in a blockbuster film. It deserves as much credit as it is getting for that.
However, not as much attention has been drawn to the fact that this film is remarkably feminist. The majority of the supporting cast is made up of women, and they are predominantly the ones fighting alongside T’Challa.
While it would have been easy – and even expected – to make T’Challa’s best friend, W’Kabi, be at his right hand, it is instead two women, Okoye and Nakia, who take the reins. Actually, they seem to have just as many fight scenes as Black Panther himself.
Then there is Shuri, who is, as far as everyone I’ve talked to is concerned, the best character of the movie. She’s a young genius, the head of technology in the hyper-advanced Wakanda, and next in line for the throne after T’Challa. Her inventions are what save the day time and time again.
The interesting thing about the women in this film is that they could have very easily fallen prey to what most women in films do: not having a purpose outside of the main male character.
Naturally, they all have a relationship with him. Shuri is his sister, Nakia is his ex-girlfriend, and Okoye is the head of military forces in Wakanda.
As this is his movie, most of their discussions and actions are centered around T’Challa. However, they are all strong and independent characters in their own right.
They have distinguishable personalities, goals and values. The viewer gets the sense that, even without T’Challa, these women would be just fine. Their stories and lives are not dependent on the men of the story; they exist beside them, as fully formed people.
This kind of feminism isn’t the in-your-face kind that we saw with Wonder Woman, which was essentially marketed as a feminist film. Yes, there were women fighting and being physically strong, but it was more than that. It offered real women, who know and love men, but who have their own priorities. Who are allowed to simply exist as people beyond their relationship to men.
It is rare to see female side characters be just as compelling and rich, if not more so, than the men in the movie. With “Black Panther” crossing the $1 billion mark at the box office in its first month, I hope that Marvel – as well as other movie studios, like Warner Brothers (responsible for DC movies) – are taking note.
“Black Panther” beautifully balances a steady pace with well-developed characters, and I only hope that these characters stay just as strong in the films to come.