14 March 2018

I’ve been waiting on the Black Panther film since I saw Captain America: Civil War in 2016. I’ve always been a comic book fan and have indulged my love with the movies over the years. So when it was released in February, I walked into the cinema excited to see what the latest Marvel offering would bring . . . and walked out two-and-a-half hours later, a woman transformed. Black Panther went way beyond descriptions such as ‘good’ or ‘brilliant’; it wasn’t simply ‘fun’ or ‘exciting’, it gave me something. It gave me understanding.

Understanding of what it’s like to sit and watch a female hero – well, four of them – who looked like me.

I think it’s very difficult for people who as a default see themselves reflected in society and culture to understand why it feels so incredible to view a film or read a book and discover that person looks like you. I also think it’s hard for those who are regularly portrayed as multi-dimensional beings – the hero, the love interest, the complicated villain, the wise advisor, the heartless siren, the kooky beauty, etc. – to understand what it’s like for us who don’t have that happen very often.

Dorothy Koomson on female representation in Black Panther

More often than not, black women and women of colour are the sassy sidekicks, the aggressive interloper, the hyper-sexualised antagonist, the need-to-be-rescued victim.

More often than not, black women and women of colour are the sassy sidekicks, the aggressive interloper, the hyper-sexualised antagonist, the need-to-be-rescued victim. On those rare occasions when we are at the centre of the story, it isn’t about us in all our complex glory, it is about how badly we’re treated by society, it is about the effect of other people’s racism on us and how the other person grows as a result of it. Don’t get me wrong, those things do affect us and are part of our lives, but it’s not all we’re about. And because of people are rarely shown that, we’re seldom allowed to be the face of a story that is about the universal human experience; hardly ever given the opportunity to be every-woman. This is what Black Panther did. It had multi-dimensional women who had backstories, flaws, strengths, vulnerabilities; hopes and dreams, loves and losses.

I came out of the cinema beaming. For me, Black Panther is a true feminist movie because it gives the female characters their rightful respect as equals to the men in the story and truly celebrates the strength and brilliance of all women.

The Fighter

General Okoye is in charge of the elite, all-female fighting force called the Dora Milaje who are sworn to protect the King of Wakanda. She’s loyal and strong, but also funny and vulnerable. She is put in an impossible situation when the throne is challenged.

The Spy (and love interest)

Nakia is a spy who loves her country but wants to help the world. She’s beautiful and clever, as well as wise and stubborn. She wants to change the world and knows she can’t do it by staying with the isolated confines of Wakanda.

The Genius

Shuri is the sister of the king and she is so far from what we’ve come to expect from movie princesses. The Kingdom of Wakanda is highly advanced and she is behind most of it – creating some of the best tech anyone has seen. She also has some of the funniest lines in the whole film.

The Advisor

Ramonda is the mother of T’Challa (Black Panther) and Shuri (the genius). She’s struggling to deal with the murder of her husband while supporting her son as he takes over as the king. She is fiercely protective of her children and country, but is she hiding a devastating secret?

If you do check out Black Panther and decide you want to read more fiction about black women and women of colour who are multi-faceted and real, then pick up books by Malorie Blackman, Lola Jaye, Irenosen Okojie, Sareeta Domingo, Anne John Ligali, Patrice Lawrence, Rasheda Malcolm, Frances Mensah Williams, Buchi Emechata to name just a few authors who prove there is more to black women and women of colour than the current narrative allows.

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