Black Panther’s Lupita Nyong’o On Gender Equality & Colonization

by Yah Yah

From the moment Lupita Nyong’o shot to mainstream fame through her Oscar-winning role in 12 Years a Slave, the actress’ work and words have constantly offered valuable insight on important issues in Hollywood. Since then, the Kenyan actress has starred in a number of other projects, and one of the most recent was Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther.

The superhero film, which Screenrant reports has smashed record after record even before its much-anticipated release, explores issues of liberation while also featuring female strength and black talent. Nyong’o, along with the other women of the fictional country of Wakanda, offers a unique viewpoint as the intersection of both.

“Almost healing”

Black Panther’s Wakanda is a country that has never been colonized, its culture and wealth saved from outside interference and subjugation, and its people granted the opportunity to achieve their own self-actualization. Nyong’o said in a recent interview, “For me, as an African who lives outside Africa and wrestles with that dichotomy of tradition and modernity, this is almost healing.”

Nyong’o has also previously described Africa as a continent of great wealth, but one that has been exploited to the point that the global narrative is that of poverty and strife. This narrative conveniently leaves out the role of Western nations in depleting resources and destroying immense cultural and historical wealth. This sort of wish fulfillment, of a vision of Africa as what it could be, is at the core of the film.

The film’s spotlight on black history and the effects of colonization has struck a chord, and rightfully so, among the black community. The significance of a black superhero in a blockbuster film has not been lost on many viewers, particularly in an age when racial discrimination and violence persist, most horrifyingly on unarmed black youth. Good Morning America’s T.J. Holmes went on record stating, “Little black kids can look up at the screen, they don’t have to close their eyes and imagine themselves as a hero. They can see it.” The anchor notes that black Hollywood stars have also rented out entire theaters so that African-American children can see the film for free.

On female strength and gender equality

Another notable strength of the film is its emphasis on gender equality. Wakanda’s strength not only lies in its natural resources, but also in its diverse population of fierce and courageous women. For instance, Nyongo’s Nakia is a spy for the Wakandan government who does not lose her sense of self at the expense of being the protagonist’s love interest. Other women in the film include Letitia Wright’s Shuri, a tech wiz and princess all at once, and Danai Gurira’s Okoye, who is a traditionalist and head of the all-female special forces of Wakanda. The Queen Mother Ramonda, played by Angela Bassett, was the rock of the Wakandan society.

Of the influence these women have on the story alongside major male characters,  Nyong’o told Entertainment Weekly, “It was such a breath of fresh air seeing men and women living in their power without one dwarfing the other. To me it was reflective of the fact that sexism is learned.” For the thespian, Wakanda sets an example of a society in which delineations of sex are not oppressive and posits that this can be very possible with change.

Lupita Nyong’o continues her stunning body of work with award-winning actress Viola Davis in the upcoming film The Woman King. A previous post here on Shine My Crown relayed that the two are set to play a mother and daughter in the Kingdom of Dahomey in 18th and 19th century Africa, combatting French invaders and fighting for their country.

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