There is no doubt that Marvel’s black panther is a great movie. With over 1 billion dollars in box office revenue, it has become a cultural phenomenon among people of African descent across the globe. The representation of different African cultures was breathtaking and extensive research was done by the costume and production designers (Ruth Carter & Hannah Bleacher) to showcase existing tribes and cultures in Africa. There has been much praise about this movie but equally coupled with criticisms and it’s interesting to read various commentaries and learn the various symbolic themes and images, along with critical opinions of what was missed and what could have been showcased better. The movie also means different things and just like a piece of art is subject to multiple interpretations, so is this creative film as it too is a work of art.
My favorite part about black panther is the strong female characters in the movie who are engaged in every part of the story. There are notable strong warriors who are very much aware of their power and intelligence and make use of it. This representation is very refreshing and it’s about time a different narrative about black women is shown. Hollywood shows and films have reduced the role of black women to certain degrading stereotypes such as mammies (obedient servants in white households), jezebels, young highly sexual women, evil, malicious, or the famous angry black woman. In films depicting African women in Africa, their roles have been reduced to be of destitution followed by rescue from a white savior/liberator. Black Panther refreshingly gave us none of these common stereotypes. What took center stage is the skill and personality of the brave women. From the Dora Milaje, the all-women protection squad to princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) who is leading the technological advancement of land with so much knowledge and wit, the women in Wakanda have power. King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) surrounds himself with powerful women like Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) and he leans on them for guidance, wisdom and strength. Black panther restores the dignity and sophistication of black women.It highlights the fact that black women have the capacity to lead and successfully influence the trajectory of nations.
Wakanda vs Reality
Contrary to the movie, the reality for many women in the continent is that they are not afforded the opportunities to get into positions of leadership. It all starts with denial of basic rights which limits the ability of young women and girls to realize their potential. UNICEF estimates that two-fifths of all African girls are married before the age of 18. Early marriages are coupled with high drop out rates from school perpetuating the poverty cycle among these women and their families. Practices of female genital mutilation (FGM) and other forms of gender based violence affect many women in Africa. Gender based violence is exacerbated by the intersection of many social and economic factors with many women in Africa having an increased vulnerability to violence.
In addition, sexual and reproductive health rights still remain largely unrealized. Tragically, 50% of all maternal deaths occur in Africa. The probability that a woman will die from a maternal cause is 1 in 31 in Sub-Saharan Africa compared with 1 in 4,300 in developed regions (WHO, 2010). Further along is the lack of equal participation of women in decision-making processes in politics and leadership. Majority of the countries in Africa are yet to achieve a gender-balanced composition in government and public administration. Rwanda has reached a milestone with having the most women in parliament which translated to new laws being passed advocating for women’s rights. Still there is a slow progress towards gender equality in most of the continent.
“When all women are empowered to make their own choices and share resources, opportunities and decisions as equal partners, every society in Africa will be transformed” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
As we celebrate the women of Wakanda, let us not forget the reality of millions of women across the continent who are not afforded the opportunity to get to lead. However, it’s still important for us to see the powerful images in Wakanda despite it being just a movie; as Wandia Njoya writes “that space is important because we cannot fight for a better world if we cannot imagine it”.