After I saw Black Panther earlier this week, I texted my sister and my boyfriend three words: “Y’all not ready.” It was really all I could saw without discussing a film that has been on my mind since I saw it. It’s layered and rich, undeniably and unapologetically Black and tells a story that will have you experiencing a range of emotions. But I can’t say too much here either.
After the film, MadameNoire and several other journalists attended a press conference with the cast, producer, writer/director of the film, Ryan Coogler, to discuss its themes and impact. Naturally, we were particularly interested in what the women, the Black women who starred in the film, had to say. Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, newcomer Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o all spoke about the strength of women in the movie, developed female characters and why this movie represents healing for so many of us.
Anticipation before watching the film
Lupita Nyong’o: I mean, I’ve been waiting a long time for this and I was just so, so excited because this was a movie we all felt a lot of ownership of and that we thoroughly enjoyed making. When you make a movie like this, of this scale, there’s so much happens between the time you perform it and the time you see it. Wakanda was built in a room with Ryan [Coogler] and the incredible design team.
How proud they felt seeing themselves as powerful women on screen.
Angela Bassett: Extraordinarily so. And so pleased that this story, written by Ryan and Joe Robert Cole and Marvel, supported that. In African culture, they feel as though there is no king without a queen. And in this story, it highlights the queen, warrior, the general, the young sister so I was so proud to have my daughter and my son there because in their faces and in their spirit, they were feeling themselves. They stood taller after last night.
Women warriors and the importance of hair…or lack thereof
Danai Gurira: When Ryan sat me down and talked to me about his vision, the story and the characters, and the women I was just floored because you don’t get to hear that often. You don’t get to hear that type of a vision. And then it embodied with us being on the continent, women from the continent but very developed, very complex. It was amazing. And I was like I just want to watch it, I get to be in it?
Then the idea of the Dora Milaje [the group of female warriors in the film], the concept of them and then you see them come to life and these astounding women who I started training with. I was the first one to get my head shaved.
In theory, it sounded amazing but then the day came and I was like, ‘Today?!’ It happened and you go into the restroom to wash your hands and then you look up like, ‘What the…?!’ It took a few days. Then all the girls started coming in we’d all been balded one by one. And then the pride started to grow and this embracing of this symbol of power.
I love that moment where she [Danai’s character] doesn’t want a wig. She doesn’t want to cover up. This is her joy, her pride is in walking with this bald head with a tattoo on it. It’s so subversive and it’s so subversive in the right way. To say, that’s not necessarily beauty. You don’t have to have hair to have beauty. There are so many great things I could say about how Ryan developed these women characters and allowed us to collaborate.
The relationship between the men and women of Wakanda
Letitia Wright: What I love about it as well is that the men are always behind the women as well. No one is undermined. The men aren’t like ‘You shouldn’t be in technology or you shouldn’t be in math.’ T’Challa’s like, ‘Go ahead sis, this is your department, this is your domain. Kill it.’ That’s the mentality of a king.
What they would like children to take from the film.
Lupita: What I love about the way this film represents women is that each and every one of us is an individual, unique. We all have our own sense of power and our own agency and we hold our own space without being pitted against each other. And I think that’s a very, very powerful message to send to children, both male and female. Often times in movies we fall into that trap where women, there’s very few of us, and we’re against each other. There’s a competitive spirit. And this film frees us of that. We see women going about their business, supporting each other, even arguing with each other, having different points of view but still not being against each other. I think that’s extremely important. And in this film, there’s so many of us, we really get a sense of the fabric of Wakanda as a nation. We see women alongside men and we see how much more effective a society can be if they allow women to explore their full potential.
Danai: I think what was really fascinating and almost very emotional for me, being that I’m Zimbabwean. (I’m American but I’m Zimbabwean.), that’s something that you always want. You see the power and potential of where you’re from but you see how skewed it’s viewed by the world and how misrepresented it is and how distorted it is received by the world so often. So this is a salve to those wounds, to see this world brought to life this way. To see all the potential and power of all the different African culturalisms and aspects of our being that was celebrated. It’s so different. It subverts things that we’ve been seeing forever around the continent. When we’re there, we see beauty, we see power, we see potential, we see ability, we see resources and then to put it on a Marvel, epic scale of exhibition it really salves wounds in a really deep way.
Black Panther hits theaters on Friday, February 16.