By Amy Renee Wasney
General Okoye, Spy Nakia, Princess Shuri. The film might be “Black Panther” (2018), but without these women, there would be no T’Challa, no Black Panther, no Wakanda, no Earth. While T’Challa was coping with his new role and doubting everything he knew, the women of Wakanda were by his side, showing him who they already knew him to be.
While the king and leader of the Wakandan people is T’Challa, the Black Panther, with his superhuman abilities given to him by the heart-shaped herb, the greatest warrior Wakanda has is General Okoye. She leads their army, the Dora Milaje, with a strong hand and fierce loyalty. In the fight in Busan, South Korea, she takes on many of Klaue’s men all on her own. With nothing but a spear and a wig, she uses her knowledge of combat and her training to defeat the multitude of bad guys with guns. During the car chase, she takes out one car using just a spear. And when she is flipping through the air after being blown up, she uses her other spear to save her own life, proving that she is resourceful and able to think quickly.
After the ritual combat fight between T’Challa and Killmonger, Okoye’s strength and loyalty takes another form. Until that moment, it seemed as though she was loyal to T’Chaka, T’Challa, and the royal family. But it is during her conversation with Nakia when you see where her loyalty lies. Okoye is loyal to Wakanda above all else. She will fight for Wakanda, she will kill for Wakanda, she will sacrifice everything she loves for Wakanda, and she will die for Wakanda. It’s during this conversation that you see what makes Okoye such a great warrior. While in her personal life she values love and friendship, when she is the General of the Dora Milaje, everything is for Wakanda.
When she made the choice to serve her country no matter who the king is, she may have made a few enemies or lost people’s trust, but she knew deep down in her heart that no matter what happens or who comes along, her loyalty and love of Wakanda is unwavering. And it was this loyalty that eventually led to her being able to save the country she loves so much.
Okoye’s greatest moment of using strategy over force is when she stands in front of a temporary ally, protecting him from a charging rhinoceros, knowing that the animal loves her and will stop for her. She then stands against W’Kabi, her love, knowing also that he loves her, but not knowing if he will stop for her. She uses her love, both for W’Kabi and Wakanda, to stop the fighting. This great general stops a terrible battle in its tracks, simply because she is able and willing to use something other than brute force. If Okoye had not done this, the battle would’ve raged on and Wakanda would’ve been devastated, but because she was able to remind W’Kabi and the Border Tribe of love, they were willing to throw down their weapons and unite once again.
When we first meet Nakia, she is undercover on a mission to rescue a group of kidnapped women. It’s our first introduction to this woman and she’s in the thick of danger, putting her own life on the line to rescue others. Nakia accepts T’Challa’s offer to return home for the coronation ceremony, but she will not be staying in Wakanda for very long. In a nation of people who value their own home country over all else, Nakia sees the suffering in the rest of the world and will do whatever she can to help.
Once T’Challa is crowned as King, Nakia doesn’t forget the position she is in to help others. As they walk through the streets, Nakia does her best to convince T’Challa that Wakanda should be doing more to help the outside world, trying as hard as she can to convince him that Wakanda is strong enough to help others without losing what makes them so great. He does not agree to her request, but she has planted the seeds in his mind. She knows that T’Challa has a good heart, and she is going to do everything in her power to bring that good heart out and not let T’Challa hide in fear.
Nakia has enormous physical strength and power, as we see in the fight in South Korea, the Wakandan battle, and the fact that during the coronation ceremony she is the River Tribe’s prize warrior who declines to challenge for the throne. If it was what she wanted out of life, she could have very easily become a Dora Milaje, but that wasn’t her calling in life. Nakia constantly values love over war, helping over fighting. She wants Wakanda to help other people and nations, but she doesn’t want them to send their weapons to oppressed people; she wants to offer aid, refuge, help. She wants to help oppressed people not by bringing the oppressors down, but by lifting everyone up to a higher level.
From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem that Nakia does not have the loyalty to Wakanda that Okoye has, but Nakia’s loyalty should never be questioned. She does not bow down to the new king when Killmonger takes over; she does anything and everything she can, working outside of the law and Wakanda’s protection to save the country she loves. She goes to the General and asks for help in overthrowing the man not fit to be king, she sneaks through tunnels to steal the heart-shaped herb, and she offers that herb to M’Baku, leader of the Jabari, even though he has not earned the role of Black Panther. She has spent her life working as a spy outside of her beloved Wakanda, and now to save her country and restore Wakanda to its glory, she has to turn against it. Nakia did not know what kind of repercussions she may face by giving the heart-shaped herb to M’Baku, but she did what she had to do because she knew it was the only way to save what she loved.
Finally, we have Princess Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister. Before I begin, I feel I should make a disclaimer: I have always been the younger sister, and let me tell you, it’s not easy. Younger sisters have the ability to lift your spirits, make you laugh, boost your ego, bring your ego down a few notches, and humiliate you, all with just a few words. Nobody believes in you more than younger sisters do, but there is also nobody who will hold you more accountable for your actions, and Shuri is all of this and more for T’Challa. In her first two minutes onscreen, she teases him, tries to teach him, scolds him, and retaliates when he teases her. At the coronation ceremony, the pride on her face for her brother could melt even the hardest of hearts, yet she is still able to keep him in check when she raises her hand to complain about her corset.
Throughout the entire movie, we see Shuri save T’Challa’s life again and again. While he is in South Korea, she is driving the car for him, constantly communicating with him, reminding him of the kinetic energy in his suit. After the ritual combat battle with Killmonger, Shuri is the one who rescues T’Challa’s Black Panther necklace. Even when she believes him to be dead, she is still managing to rescue him. In the final battle with Killmonger, at T’Challa’s request she turns on the train, allowing the lights to deactivate the Black Panther suits, which is what eventually leads to T’Challa’s success in the fight. Shuri is T’Challa’s biggest cheerleader, his strongest critic, his best friend, and the one he would be truly lost without.
There is no denying that T’Challa is a strong leader with a good heart, but without the women of Wakanda, he would be lost in the tall grass. With the help of the heart-shaped herb, he has superhuman strength, speed, and instincts, but he would lose every war he was in if he didn’t have Okoye. He is kindhearted and good-natured, but if he didn’t have Nakia, he would be following in the footsteps of past kings and keeping vibranium and Wakandan technology a secret out of fear instead of helping the rest of the world and providing aid. He knows who he is. He is proud of his heritage, proud of his country, proud of his father, and proud of himself. Without Shuri by his side, he would have none of that. Only with the women’s body, heart, and soul—Okoye, Nakia, and Shuri, respectively—can T’Challa truly be the Black Panther that Wakanda deserves.
Amy Renee Wasney is a passionate writer and feminist living in the south suburbs of Chicago and an annual participant in National Novel Writing Month who enjoys hot beverages, baking, and cross-stitching. Her favorite films include “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), “The Princess Bride” (1987), and “Big Fish” (2003), and her personal heroes are Fred Rogers and Hermione Granger. She tries to live up to their example each and every day.