As Black Panther wins praise for its portrayal of African culture, it also blazes a path for strong female heroes in the MCU.
Both critics and fans are raving about Black Panther, the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In particular, the film has gained rave reviews for accurately voicing an important representation of the African race and culture.
However, this is not the only big win for diversity and equality in the film. Introducing T’Challa back in Civil War meant giving the supporting cast of predominantly strong, female characters in Black Panther time to shine.
Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye are this movie’s true breakout characters. Their importance reaches far beyond one film. They show what the future could be for strong women in the MCU. I have provided some examples of how this will go.
Warning: SPOILERS for Black Panther. If you have not seen it, what are you waiting for? Turn back and head for the nearest theatre.
Power is not always given, but earned.
Of the major characters in this film, only two – T’Challa and Killmonger – actually have superpowers.
None of the women in the film have superpowers. They have worked hard to gain the advantages they have in the film.
Okoye has done this by training and improving her strength in battle. When the movie begins, she is head of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s Special Forces.
Shuri has an intelligence level rivalling Tony Stark. She has kept her mind sharp working on various projects around Wakanda. At just sixteen, she is in charge of Technological development in her country.
Nakia uses both strength and intelligence to survive. She has built herself up to be one of Wakanda’s best spies.
The concept of working for or earning your power is something the MCU could easily expand upon in the future. Especially if they reintroduce one particular character.
The Goddess Of Thunder
Jane Foster, not seen in the MCU since Thor: The Dark World, could be an important figure of the series future. Fans of the comics would be aware that, after an incident causes the original Thor to lose his right to carry Mjolnir, Foster picks up the hammer, taking the mantle of Thor herself.
Unfortunately for Jane, her new identity comes at a price. Shortly before her reveal as Thor, the character is diagnosed with Cancer. Each time she transforms, Mjolnir purges the radiation and chemotherapy treatments from her system.
Newer fans may not realise that Jane has not always been worthy. An earlier comic storyline had Odin grant her godly powers, only to strip them once she fails his tests.
What makes Jane Foster worthy now is not certain. Maybe it is her willingness to sacrifice her own health for the good of others.
Whatever the reason, Jane, like the women of Wakanda, has truly earned her power. This provides a piece of common history if Jane’s incarnation of Thor is ever included in the MCU.
Women are not always the ones who need rescuing
For the most part, the MCU has been quite good at portraying its female characters as more than simple damsels, even if that had been their role in the source material.
Their professions, too, have often been upgraded to things more suited to the empowered woman of the present day.
While Pepper Potts began the Iron Man trilogy as Tony Stark’s ‘Secretary’, it is made immediately clear that she is far more important than her job title suggests. By Iron Man 2, she is the CEO of Stark’s company.
In the early comics, Jane Foster is a nurse. In the Thor films, she is a respected scientist instead.
All seems to be going well, right? The series is filled with strong, intelligent women. None of them have led a film yet, but that’s okay. Progress has been made, stereotypes broken.
Then came the second Avengers film, and guess who got kidnapped by Ultron? Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff), the sole female member of the team at the time.
Great… Yay Progress?
While the kidnapping doesn’t at all weaken Black Widow’s position as a strong woman within the story, I cannot help but feel it was a step backwards. The same scenes could have played out with Bruce Banner kidnapped, and Natasha as his rescuer, without harming the story at all.
This is not a problem in Black Panther. At no point in the film is the female lead, Nakia, in need of rescuing.
T’Challa, the titular Black Panther, is.
After T’Challa’s supposed death, Nakia springs into action, getting the Queen, Princess, and recovering Agent Ross to safety. She then manages to swipe one of the herbs that grant the power of the Black Panther before Killmonger has them all burned.
Once T’Challa is discovered alive, Nakia helps him recover. Then she, along with Okoye and Princess Shuri, plays a vital role in the film’s final battle.
While it is T’Challa who ultimately defeats the villain, Nakia’s actions throughout the film are equally heroic. This is a path that Marvel should follow in future films.
Black Panther of the Future?
While it may seem unbelievable to speak of who the next Black Panther will be when the franchise has only just began, the topic is worth thinking about.
Chadwick Boseman, who took on the role beginning with Civil War, is 40 years old. This places him in the older age range within the current crop of MCU heroes. No one can play these roles forever.
What’s a cinematic universe to do?
Lucky for them, the perfect solution is already in place.
All Hail the Princess
In the comics, the tech-savvy Shuri plans to challenge her Uncle for the mantle of Black Panther, only backing down after T’Challa beats her to it.
Much later, with a brutal attack leaving T’Challa comatose, Shuri takes on all his duties. These include both the throne of Wakanda and the coveted mantle of Black Panther. When T’Challa recovers, he is so impressed by his sister’s efforts that he chooses to share the title with her.
Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri in the film, is just 24. She is a star on the rise, soon set to appear in the much anticipated Ready, Player One. Fans are already speculating on the possibility of her becoming Black Panther.
If Marvel chooses to follow the path they have begun in this film, female Avengers could soon equal or even outnumber the males. Presenting such equality is a good thing for the series’ future.
Read about why Black Panther’s Killmonger is Marvel’s best villain yet here. Pretty please.