“Black Panther” isn’t your standard, testosterone-fueled superhero movie.
The film is packed with strong, dynamic women who play essential roles in defending Wakanda, the African nation they call home.
Among them are Danai Gurira’s fearless protector, Okoye, and Lupita Nyong’o’s rebellious spy, Nakia. Both actresses relished the opportunity to bring such empowering female characters to the big screen.
“We need this to be the norm,” Gurira, 39, told the Daily News. “The norm should be that women characters get to be complex and powerful, and deeply present in the storyline, without question or equivocation.
“I’m very much an advocate of girls and women reaching their fullest potential in this world, and really giving awareness around the things that block them. … The idea of contributing to that through representation means everything to me.”
In the movie, Gurira’s character is the skilled leader of the Dora Milaje, a special forces unit composed entirely of women that works closely alongside Wakanda’s king, T’Challa. Nyong’o’s Nakia, meanwhile, is an adept fighter who runs her own spy agency and displays immense bravery throughout the film.
Nyong’o, 34, was so enthused by director Ryan Coogler’s intentions for her character that she agreed to join the “Black Panther” cast before she read the script.
“When he walked me through the story, I just thought, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is a Marvel movie,’ because it seems quite bold in terms of the themes of the movie and the storyline,” Nyong’o told The News. “I liked the way he was planning to portray the women —that Wakanda was going to be populated with many influential women to the Black Panther, and Nakia was one of them.”
Letitia Wright’s Shuri — the genius younger sister of T’Challa who develops much of Wakanda’s technology — and Angela Bassett’s Ramonda, the nation’s former queen, are among the film’s other key roles.
For Coogler, there was never any doubt the women of Wakanda would be prominent.
“I wanted to give them full range in our narrative and … an impact on the narrative, because in my life, the women around me are exceptional,” Coogler said. “And it’s because they’re exceptional that I’m able to do what I’m allowed to do. I think that idea is just one that often times, for whatever reason, you don’t see in film.”
Gurira and Nyong’o agree their characters feel especially relevant amid the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements currently sweeping much of the globe. Nyong’o has been a prominent crusader for Time’s Up since its launch earlier this year, and she came forward last October to accuse Harvey Weinstein of making an unwanted sexual advance toward her early in her career.
She’s amazed how pertinent the “Black Panther” script remains today, some two years after Coogler began developing it.
“It felt so relevant then, and it was a very different social-political climate, so for it to come out now just speaks volumes about how prophetic artists can be,” Nyong’o said. “It just seems like he made it yesterday.”
Gurira, meanwhile, is hopeful many more films join “Black Panther” in featuring casts filled with significant women.
“We’ve always been in need of these types of portrayals,” Gurira said. “It is time’s up. It’s time’s up in so many ways and so many things that are just intolerable in our society and need to really get spearheaded head on and dealt with head on without any vacillation.
“It’s also time’s up when it comes to telling stories where women are marginal or deeply less empowered. It’s all times up.”