Race and Gender Issues in Black Panther
“In the film “”Black Panther,”” T’Challa returned to the nation of Wakanda to become King after the death of his father. T’Challa must rally his allies, consisting of mostly women, to defeat his foes. With the fate of the entire world (not just Wakanda) at risk, T’Challa must release the full power of the Black Panther. As the film goes on, it becomes evident that women are incredibly important for his mission to be a success. “Black Panther,” says a lot about the intersection of race and gender in their portrayal of black women. Black women face oppression on a level that differs from the oppression that is being faced by white women in addition to that of black males. This is due to black women having two separate forces working against them (gender and race). To defy the system that oppresses them, black women must break through two barriers that have been working systemically and institutionally to hold them back. This concept of intersectionality has become a vital part of critical race theory through the years. It teaches the reality of breaking down oppressive power structures for all people facing oppression. The emphasis on an intersectional approach in feminism works to uphold social justice for those who are marginalized. Intersectional feminism relates to the liberation of the many being suppressed.
The women of Wakanda are portrayed as being powerful. All of them appear to be used to having their opinions and voices heard. They act as though they are completely at ease with occupying a role of power. The roles they play in the film “Black Panther” are of great power and prestige. In response to the positions they are in, the women are not surprised or humbled. This is their concept of normal. Wakanda acts as this paradise where sexism does not appear to exist mostly. This is partially due to the Afrofuturism influence seen in the film. Afrofuturism “authors updated older, well-established story forms — including the gothic, the fantastic journey, and utopian fiction — with detailed references to modern scientific theories and technological developments” (Afrofuturism, Science Fiction, and the History of the Future). “Black Panther” obviously drew from the concept of creating a utopian society. In this utopian society without sexism, no woman is objectified, abused, or belittled because they are female. Throughout the film, the Wakandan women demonstrate their skill by saving the lives of men and women alike. They have the power and ability to make their own decisions regarding allegiance. The strength of Wakanda women is obvious considering that there is an entirely female military protecting their king. As the king, The Black Panther’s safety is of the utmost importance to their nation and the responsibility to keep him safe is put on the female general and her militia filled with women. The film challenges the sexist thought of men being strong as women are weak by having these female bodyguards/warriors save T’Challa. Beyond their physical abilities, the Wakandan women have great minds. All the tech that the Black Panther used is made by a teen girl. Shuri, T’Challa’s 16-year-old sister, is the genius behind the operation. She thinks of new and innovative ways to use technology as she creates gadgets to better Wakandan society. Shuri is a wonderful representation for young girls of color that may be interested in pursuing a STEM field. Shuri proves with her scientific advancements that girls can be amazing in STEM. The women in “Black Panther” really stand on their own but their interactions with T’Challa show that they are seen as equal (since he relies on them so much).
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The film tackled romance in an interesting way. The women have lives outside of being a wife and mother. They are their own unique individuals. Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest, is passionate about her humanitarian work and will not give it up for him. She is ultimately refusing to sacrifice her career that she careers about and they work that she does for the common good more than a potential relationship with him. Okoye had no problem telling her lover, W’Kabi, that she would be willing to kill him to protect her country. Shuri doesn’t even have a love interest. “Black Panther” as a film obviously centers around a man but the lives of the female characters do not. “Black Panther” offers diverse female characters with complexity and depth. “The fact that Black Panther has a wider variety of Wakandan women to identify with—are you insanely smart and tech savvy like Shuri, or a do-gooder with maternal instincts like Nakia?—is a crucial step toward truly progressive feminism on screen” (Black Panther is the Most Feminist Superhero Movie Yet). Black Panther is a step in the right direction for creating films that address race and gender issues through their characters in a progressive way.”