It all started with a conversation. My sister had just seen the movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I saw it before her and told her that it was good, but she would need to have the tissues ready. She definitely cried and raved about the cinematography, Rihanna finally blessing us with new music, and that she would do anything for AND to Namor. And then she referred to a very specific scene. As she talked about it, all I could think was, “How the hell did I miss that?!”
The next time I saw it, I made the “Home Alone face,” marveling (pun definitely intended) at how Wakanda Forever stands tall amongst a few other films that show Black women (notably dark-skinned Black women) in power while doing its best to fight against the seemingly relentless onslaught of misogynoir (which is contempt, disdain, and prejudice against Black women) both in fictional and real worlds.
The scene happens in third act after the death of Queen Ramonda. Shuri, the new Black Panther, plans to lure the Talokanil and Namor into a trap. The Wakandans are on an imposing ship that could probably withstand Alioth. The Dora Milaje tie ropes around their waists and the men of the Jabari tribe, led by M’Baku, hold them while they vault over the side of the ship to fight the Talokanil. After the fight, the Jabari men pull them back up.
Wakanda Forever doesn’t present this scene with a lot of fanfare or flash. There are bigger and more grandiose moments, like Queen Ramonda’s speech to the UN or Shuri’s introduction as the Black Panther. I remembered seeing it; however, it didn’t register for me the way it did for my sister. It is no surprise that my sister—a queer, dark-skinned Black woman—would catch a scene so simple and yet so meaningful in a way that I—a Black cishet man—didn’t.
It wasn’t a vital moment but it enhanced the film in a measurable way. Wakanda is a place that is regularly lauded for its incredible feats of technology. The Midnight Angels can fly. The Black Panther suit can absorb kinetic energy and expel it. So tying a rope around a fighter’s waist is quite primitive for Wakanda’s standards. But this happens intentionally to show a necessary weapon against misogynoir: the unflinching support of Black men.
The M’baku and his Jabari tribe we meet in the first Black Panther movie were outsiders of Wakanda. They were brash, arrogant and, just like the ape god they worship, Hanuman, mighty. But even with this seemingly brutish representation of manhood, they were the tribe that gave Queen Ramonda safe haven during the reign of Killmonger. Did the Merchant tribe that come to the rescue when it looked like T’Challa and his allies would be defeated by the Border tribe and Killmonger? Nope, it was the men and women of the Jabari. Then, in Wakanda Forever, their softer side is further revealed by the gentle counsel M’Baku gives to Shuri. She’s seething with hatred and plotting her revenge against Namor and his people. But M’Baku is there to provide, advise and later, even as big and powerful as he is, acquiesce to her.
That is why that scene, showing the big, strong Jabari men standing firm while the Dora Milaje battle is so powerful and resonant. It is a culmination of those scenes before it. It shows power deferred without ceding strength. Only men that are insecure and internally weak would have a problem being asked to hold up these female warriors while they fight. Wakanda Forever eschews paternalistic viewpoints and shows equality without being preachy about it. The Jabari men were intimately involved with the fight, but just in a different way. That is why patriarchy can be viewed as a gilded cage. Even though it purports to be a way of life that will make men better, stronger or, at its dumbest, more “manlier,” it actually significantly diminishes the many ways that men and women can come together. It only allows room for recognizing an antiquated and archaic binary.
Malcolm X said eloquently and presciently: “The most disrespected person on Earth is a Black woman.” And we see that happening in real-time. There’s been recent hatred towards high-profile Black women like Megan Thee Stallion, who was subject to attacks during her trial against Tory Lanez, a Canadian rapper found guilty of shooting her in the foot. The misogynoir was so virulent, one of the chief perpetrators, 50 Cent, issued a half-hearted apology for his callous behavior.
Many times, men, for the most part, have tried to individualize or minimize misogyny. It is portrayed to be just leering, creepy men catcalling a vulnerable woman on the street. (And even that can have its racist messaging underneath.) It is a tactic used by those in power to show that there is not a problem with the system or institution, but instead with just one “bad apple.” And once that “bad apple” is dealt with, all is forgiven and solved.
It takes any scrutiny away from them, allowing further protests to be soothed with performative gestures, which can feel like a constant deluge with no end in sight. There have been many examples of how lucrative, pervasive and extensive misogyny is. That is why it continues. Not just because of a few individuals that still haven’t got the memos, but because a lot of inequitable power structures have been built on it. And there are some people that would like to see that structure—as unsound and faulty as it may be—keep standing. In reality, the world would benefit from a different structure and mindsets around gender like what we see in Wakanda Forever.
A few fictional projects have recently tried to take swipes at those structures in hopes of shifting mindsets. Outside of the obviously great portrayal of the Dora Milaje in MCU, shows like She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel are led by strong, capable women and girls while giving them nuance through their vulnerability and imperfections. The Woman King has also brought up difficult subjects like misogynoir and patriarchy while deftly handling the transatlantic slave trade from a West African perspective. Of course, in a white male dominated industry, there were no Oscar nominations for a female director and The Woman King, with its explicit depictions of violence against racist white men, was completely shut out.
When Wakanda Forever hits streaming, I will be there with popcorn (and rum & Coke) in hand to enjoy it again. I will clap when I see Oscar-nominated Angela Bassett grace the screen. (Sidenote: The fact that she only has TWO Oscar nominations in more than four decades as an actress is criminal.) But I will also be watching my sister, who didn’t just enjoy the film for its amazing acting, grand set pieces and engaging story. She also loved those moments of Black men being vulnerable and supportive without feeling like it somehow compromises their masculinity and women who resemble her taking charge, fighting, struggling, mourning and triumphing without the additional weight of patriarchy nor misogynoir. And it’s something that we all need to see.