I’m looking at a webpage open to Entertainment Weekly’s Entertainers of the Year post, specifically the one on the women of Black Panther. The window that I’m looking at is currently frozen on a Clairol ad, featuring a black woman with curly, seemingly natural hair. Her smile is staring back at me. The ad is just a pre-roll for the video of Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, and Danai Gurira sitting down to talk about Black Panther and their roles in the film but it feels like a nice tie-in to accompany why these four women deserve their title as Entertainers of the Year.
Lupita, Letitia, Angela, and Danai are so much more than their hair but as I discussed in depth when Black Panther came out, the choice to showcase natural black hairstyles was important. It meant a lot to me. And still, almost a year after its release, seeing these four black women on the cover of a magazine rocking their beautiful hair and standing in their strength under the title of Entertainers of the Year means so much to me. It still gives me chills.
The last time I checked in on the women of Wakanda, Lupita, Angela, and Danai were on the cover of ELLE as part of the second leg of the Black Panther press tour as they push for the Academy to recognize the film. After the ELLE cover, I wrote then about the impact of Lupita, Angela, and Danai’s roles. Letitia is included in EW which I love because Nakia, Queen Romanda, and Okoye are powerhouse characters but the one that may have the most cultural impact is Shuri. Shuri is the leading tech mind of Wakanda. She’s also a young woman. Black Panther never treats this like an abnormality. It’s just a fact. A girl is kickass at STEM. In Avengers: Infinity War, we see that she’s even more kickass than Bruce Banner. Here’s what Danai Gurira told EW about the importance of Shuri’s mind:
“It’s never said, ‘Oh, you’re a girl, therefore you cannot. Boys do the maths and sciences.’ That happens a lot in the world today. Girls are not encouraged to go into those fields.”
Tomorrow on The Social, I’m producing Komal Singh, a Google engineer who wrote the book Ara the Star Engineer. Ara the Star Engineer profiles four real-life women who work at Google and who are proving that STEM isn’t just for boys. We know that the tech world is overwhelmingly male-dominated and thanks to Komal, I now know that research shows that girls start doubting their STEM intelligence as early as six years old. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it, they say. Not only is the next generation of girls growing up with Ara the Star Engineer but they’ve got Shuri, creator of Black Panther’s suit and master manipulator of vibranium to look up to. Letitia Wright’s performance is part of why this character has become so influential but it’s also because the character existed as a full, brilliant human being in the first place.
All of the women of Wakanda are fully formed, complex characters. I’ve been driving home this point for months: Black Panther gave us the best portrayals of women in a superhero film we’ve ever seen. It gave us more complex women than we typically see in movies of any genre. Lupita Nyong’o agrees.
“Watching the movie for the first time, I was seeing the different women occupy the different space and be their full selves and interacting with each other not with competition but with agency really and their personal motivations being what leads them forward. They’re not there for eye candy – although we do look pretty darn fly I must say.”
THAT PART. The women of Black Panther didn’t have to sacrifice looking “pretty darn fly” for their agency. They still fell in love or acted maternally or sisterly or all the things we usually see women doing except they also got to have their own opinions and ambitions. What a concept. And they did all of that in a story that, on the surface, wasn’t about them. Imagine moving forward, all of the female roles in film were approached in the same way? If Black Panther signals this shift, these women deserve to be the Entertainers of the Decade, not just the year. I love what Lupita says about this current moment in Hollywood:
“Change is not an event, it’s a process. And so what we see happening in this moment is pivotal. It’s not over. We cannot assess it yet.”
Assessing it means that there isn’t still work to be done. These four entertainers are still doing the work, and looking “pretty darn fly” as they do it.
For EW’s full sit-down with the women of Black Panther, click here.