The Marvel Cinematic Universe is known for bringing lots of interesting, diverse characters to the big screen and breathing life into many people's beloved comic book characters with talented actors and humorous writing. Marvel's most recent box office phenomenon, Black Panther, has been a hit for a myriad of different reasons. First introduced in Captain America: Civil War, the Black Panther is T'Challa, the newly crowned king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. In this movie, we are introduced to the mysterious background of the Wakandan nation and given insight to their many traditions and customs. We are introduced to many interesting and strong characters, all played by extremely talented actors, many of whom are strong women and even more of whom are people of color.
Of the strong women characters in the cast, one stood out to me as particularly important. Shuri, T'Challa's younger sister and princess of Wakanda, is an integral part of the Wakandan kingdom. Portrayed by Letitia Wright, Shuri is a firecracker of a girl with a wide range of skills and the confidence to match. She is in charge of all of their technological innovation, creating weapons and ways to heal using their most bountiful resource - vibranium. She is young, as pointed out by the Jabari tribe during the challenge duel. She takes no nonsense, always having a comment or quip at the ready to fire back at anyone who may have something to say to her. She uses her own creations, her weapons, with no hesitation as a means to protect her kingdom, her family, and her friends. She does not back down. Having a young girl, especially a young black girl, on screen who is smart, strong, funny and admired for those traits instead of ostracized or made into some kind of commodity is refreshing and empowering. It makes me glad to know I could take my little sister to see this movie and she would see a girl who is proud to be smart and strong, and she would see that she too could be smart and strong and that it is not something anyone should be ashamed of.
Shuri is absolutely everything we, as viewers and as girls, deserve in an on-screen girl genius. Smart, funny, confident, and with hair/outfit game that made me lowkey want to start my own Shuri-themed Pinterest board, she's a Wakandan treasure. Along with Shuri, we also got Nakia (Lupita N'yongo) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) who were equally as amazing. Nakia is a spy, resourceful and a key member of T'Challa's team. Okoye is the general of the Wakandan army - which is all female. One of my favorite parts about these two and their relationship with each other was the fact that Okoye is T'Challa's ex and Nakia is his current (yet mostly subtle) love interest. In most movies, the love triangle aspect would have been played up to an overwhelming degree and these two strong women would have been pitted against each other. Instead, they functioned as a team until *spoiler!* Killmonger took the throne, causing Okoye to pledge her loyalty to the throne, not to T'Challa the way Nakia did. Regardless, the fact that these two amazing actors were able to play strong female characters with a common love interest without poor writing causing a love triangle/animosity was a huge point-scorer for this film.
We are at a very important time in cinematic history. There are tons of smart, talented women in the film industry, both in front of and behind the camera. There are writers, producers, directors, camerawomen and actors who are breaking ground and doing amazing things for the industry. By putting more smart female characters at the forefront of pop-culture, we can show little girls watching that anything is possible and reaffirm what they should already know, even if they aren't aware of it.
Marvel has not always been heralded for having strong female characters in their films, but with Black Panther they really got it right. They presented viewers with an entire nation of strong, fierce women who don't back down, who are loyal and willing to fight for what they believe in, and who are not "damsels in distress" who need to be saved by some strong man. Maybe this has something to do with the movie being one of the biggest box office successes ever, still bringing in money weeks after its premiere and passing up Titanic to become the third-highest grossing movie of all time in North America.