Marija Abney on Why ‘Black Panther’ Is a Turning Point for Black Women in Film

Marija Abney on Why ‘Black Panther’ Is a Turning Point for Black Women in Film
Photo: Getty Images

Outside of the Eddie Murphy classic “Coming to America,” you’ll be hard-pressed to recall a blockbuster film that portrays black royalty in a believable and respectful way. That ends this weekend with the highly-anticipated release of “Black Panther,” the latest Marvel project based on a comic of the same name.

In case you haven’t turned on a TV this past year, the project brings together some of Hollywood’s biggest black stars; Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan, to name a few. Chadwick Boseman, who you may recognize from “42” and “Captain America,” plays the titular character, a king (“T’Challa) tasked with protecting his home, a centuries-old African nation called Wakanda.

Why must he protect it, you ask? Well, outside forces are after vibranium, an alien metal that has allowed the destination—disguised as a third world country—to flourish with all kinds of advanced technologies that could potentially help solve some of the world’s biggest problems. In short: it’s kind of a big deal.

Nakia is coming! #BlackPanther 2.16.18 @MarvelStudios

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Without giving too much away (spoilers are the worst), the entire film expertly blends the themes of family, identity and priviledge. And although we could wax poetic about those ideas, what we’re most psyched about is the role of women throughout the film. In the world of Wakanda, there are no damsels in distress or love interests waiting to be saved. From Nyong’o’s Nakia to Leticia Wright‘s Shuri, it’s made very clear that the women are equal–and sometimes, saving–their male counterparts.

Much of that estrogen-fueled warrior spirit is anchored by the Dora Milaje, a fighting force made up of the most badass women from every Wakandan tribe. As a collective, it’s job is to protect the nation and T’Challa, by any means necessary. They’re lead by the fearless Okoye, played by “Walking Dead” actress Danai Gurira, and spend the entire movie kicking ass and taking names. But above all, these ladies are leading the charge when it comes to executing more accurate and well-rounded portrayals of black women on the big screen.

Wakanda Forever. #BlackPanther

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Marija Abney, one of the actresses you’ll see as part of Dora Milaje, tells StyleCaster, “This movie represents black women in all their glory; not hypersexualized…in this movie we are intelligent, strong and impassioned, and lovers and protectors of our nation and protectors of our king and champions of our men.”

“That is my favorite part about this movie. This movie doesn’t reduce the black woman to one thing or whatever stereotype would fit that specific story, this movie presents the black woman as she is— complicated.”

Aside from the months of combat training she had to endure, Abney and her castmates bear a strong, but distinctive look: ornate costuming, crafted by Ruth E. Carter, and bald heads. While Abney has rocked her’s since 2011, “Panther” marks the first time she was able to more closely bond with her co-workers, simply because they were sharing the same physical transformation.

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“I’m normally bald, but the other women had to shave their heads for this. And it ranged from loc’d hair to big natural curls and to be able to support them during this big chop was amazing,” she said. “I would wear wigs for auditioning and it wasn’t until i got completely comfortable with my baldness that i felt like myself. So for me, it’s extremely empowering to be represented as myself and be in a film and to have my look…to not cover it up.”

In a world where women of color are still critiqued or even punished for rocking hairstyles that reflect their culture, is it groundbreaking to see those same looks worn by powerful figures on the big screen. We can only hope that the strides being made in Hollywood will extend to the places we frequent day-to-day, like schools and the workplace.  If you need a serious dose of girl power, we highly suggest grabbing your closest girlfriends and seeing “Black Panther” this weekend. You won’t be sorry. And in case you missed it, check out the best beauty looks from some of the cast members here.

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