‘Black Panther’ Shines Because of Its Female Characters

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It’s hard to avoid hyperbole when talking about Black Panther. Not just because of what it means for so many people to finally see themselves on the screen, not just for the fact that diversity not only matters – it SELLS – but because this is not just a movie we should be talking about for all the reasons stated above.

This is a really good movie. Not a good superhero movie, though it’s that as well. No, a good movie, period.

And, though T’Challa is perfect as the man-who-would-be-King and though we root for him every second of this movie, after I left the movie theater, I wasn’t fixated on him. I wasn’t fixated on the frankly amazing job Michael B. Jordan does as Killmonger, quite possibly the best villain in the MCU and the first one since Loki we actually care about.

No, I couldn’t stop thinking about the women. All of them. There was enough there to love for everyone, there was badassery in every shape and form and in a very clear way, this movie was, as much a celebration of what being female is and what it means as it was a celebration of Africa and a nuanced discussion of the balance between helping others and staying safe.

Before, being a woman meant that I’d have to choose between Nakia, Okoye and Shuri, or worse, that I’d have to settle for Ramonda, because, after all, everyone’s got to have a mother, but nothing else, not a love-interest who’s her own person, not a sister who’s infinitely smarter and certainly not an army of female warriors.

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It feels incredibly to live in a world where that isn’t the case anymore.

To live in a world where even the background fights have female warriors, even if we don’t get to hear their stories, because yes, women, and in this case in particular, WOC, can and are as strong as their male counterparts.

And it tastes like honey to be treated to a love story that bases its drama on the idea that Nakia, as much as she loves T’Challa, cannot and will not be content with just being a silent Queen – she wants more, she needs more, and she’s not afraid to fight for what she believes in.

To realize that Okoye is a warrior, and a woman of ideals, yes, but she’s also a general, one who will make the hard choices when she needs to, and one who will stand up, even to the people she loves, to protect those ideals.

And to see that, in the MCU, the most brilliant technological mind can be a young WOC named Shuri, and not, let’s say …a millionaire playboy  named Tony Stark.

And yet, for all Black Panther does, it also shines a light on how much more movies need to do to get to the Promised Land. That something that men get all the time – the chance to be the best at something, the chance to relate to more than one character, is something that needs to be celebrated, doesn’t just speak to what this movie is doing right, it speaks to what an industry is doing wrong.

But we’re not here to harp on the bad, but to celebrate the good. To say thank you for the message of inclusion, even if it’s our right.

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And we’re here to celebrate all the warriors on screen, whether they were kicking literal ass or not. Being a woman in this world is still a much more complicated endeavor than it should be, and where TV and movies are meant to be escapism and a way of coming in contact with fantastical worlds, more often than not, they also serve as a reminder that even in fantasy, women are still not afforded the same rights.

Not anymore.

It’s just a movie, some will say. A movie isn’t going to change the world. A movie is a movie. And yet, if you’re saying that, I bet you are the kind of person who’s been lucky enough to have that representation, the kind of person who’s never had to doubt that their voice matters.

Black Panther does a hell of a lot right, and it gives a voice to many people who’ve never had a voice, people who’ve never felt like they belonged. But Black Panther also does one thing that, in a few years, will surely be appreciated in a way that today doesn’t allow us to.

It raises the bar of representation – and it shatters that dated idea that people can only related to white male superheroes.

Now things can get good.

Black Panther is in theaters right now.

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