- I am not a comic geek. (I like them, but not a fanatic).
- In fact, knew nothing about the Black Panther Marvel superhero. (Sorry).
- I know more now, but not enough. And he’s important.
- Any advice on the best crash course on the Black Panther back story is surely welcome.
- I have not seen this many Black men openly weep since Obama. Literally.
- The impact of a blockbuster film about a Black superhero, for real.
- That sick beat in the teaser.
- The Dora Milaje.
- HELL yes I’m going opening weekend.
- The Dora Milaje.
You’ve watched it countless times already–and what.
Back to the Dora Milaje…
So what do we know so far about Black Panther’s lethal defenders? The Dora Milaje – which means “Adored Ones” in English – are made up of women from the various tribes of Wakanda to protect their ruler, and first appeared in the Marvel Comics 30 years after Black Panther’s first outing. They are some of the most skilled non-mutants in the Marvel universe, trained in a combination of martial arts styles as well as some fighting techniques specific to the fictional African nation. Thanks to Wakanda’s vibranium, they also wield deadly technologically-advanced weaponry to aid them in their defence of the Black Panther, and, expertly wield spears, swords and nunchaku. In the first teaser trailer, we can see them in action and just how much of a formidable adversary they are to anyone trying to come for T’Challa.
However, they are also considered wives-in-training for the Black Panther as they are the superior women of their respective tribes and would, therefore, strengthen the royal bloodline. This ancient tribal tradition served also to maintain peace within Wakanda, by allowing all the tribes the equal opportunity to see their most celebrated tribeswomen potentially become their country’s Queen. In the Marvel Comics, the Dora Milaje tradition had actually been dormant until T’Challa reinstated them after his relationship to African American Monica Lynn came to an end. The Wakandan king brought in Nakia and Okoye as some of the first members of Dora Milaje but saw them more as daughters than potential romantic partners and these women served more as ceremonial wives-in-training.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has given no indication that this particular storyline appears in the Black Panther movie, but Nyong’o’s character has been described as a love interest for Boseman’s titular hero. In the comics, Nakia always dreamed of marrying T’Challa, and becomes so jealous of the return of Monica in his life that she throws her love rival out of a plane, thus causing her expulsion from the Dora Milaje. Shunned by her native tribe, Nakia leaves Wakanda only to be captured and tortured by one of Black Panther’s enemies, Achebe. She is found by Erik Killmonger – another of the Wakandan king’s foes – who uses arcane methods to save her and make her more powerful than before. Nakia becomes one of Killmonger’s agents, boasting increased strength and perfect accuracy – and given the alias Malice.
In Black Panther, Erik is played by Michael B. Jordan and positioned as the main villain, so Ryan Coogler may well have incorporated this storyline but hopefully not the obsessive lover element. One thing Marvel has done *quite* well is to ensure that stereotypical depictions of women from the comics aren’t really translated to the big screen. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) from Iron Man is not in a love triangle with Tony Stark and Happy Hogan, while Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) from Thor is a actually an astrophysicist and not a nurse. It would seem pretty odd to have one of the strongest and deadliest female characters in Black Panther to have a school girl crush on T’Challa.
One Dora Milaje romance that would be progressive to see in the MCU is that between Ayo and Aneka (the unit’s combat instructor), which was created by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his latest run of the Black Panther comics series. They become lovers after Ayo rescues Aneka from prison, where she had been sent – by Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett in the film) – for breaking Wakandan tradition by killing the chieftain of a tribe who was abusing its women. Their queer relationship is the first for an African couple in the Marvel Comics and combats the rather sexist notion that these strong powerful women are ultimately subservient to a man.
These deadly female warriors will no doubt play a key role in Coogler’s Black Panther as well as in future sequels too, and who knows, maybe Marvel will do a Dora Milaje spin-off movie too. Given the success of Wonder Woman, there’s clearly an appetite for female-led superhero films, and one that has black women as the leads would definitely be a bold step towards making the genre far more diverse and representative.