top of page
Post: Blog2_Post
FreeCast Channel and BHN.jpg
BHN on GFN.jpg
Search

How 'Wakanda Forever' broke the mold of Hollywood’s major Black female superheros

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever rewrote Hollywood’s script for superhero movies. English professor Diana Adesola Mafe was involved in an academic roundtable that offers a critical conversation about it and another film set in an African kingdom, The Woman King. She argues that Wakanda Forever is a breakthrough film. She was asked why.


Why are these two films such talking points?

As big budget productions with Black female heroes, "The Woman King" and "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever"invite discussion and debate about Hollywood representations of Africa and the kinds of roles that women and girls can and should play. They lend themselves to discussing topics ranging from the importance of historical accuracy to the power of imagining alternative histories and fantastical futures.


Why is Wakanda Forever important to you?

One of my primary research areas is the representation of Black women in literature and popular culture. My 2018 book, "Where No Black Woman Has Gone Before: Subversive Portrayals in Speculative Film and TV" is precisely about Black women in science fiction and fantasy roles. I am always on the look-out for films that push boundaries, challenge stereotypes, and put Black women at the center of the story.


Wakanda Forever does that by presenting a superhero action flick headlined by Black women. The film is set in the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, where the people are mourning the death of their king and fighting to defend their land and resources, especially the powerful metal vibranium, from world powers.


It’s the first Hollywood film to showcase Black female superheroes on such an epic scale, backed by a US$250 million budget and the global reach of a juggernaut like Marvel Studios. The posters alone tell viewers that this film is doing something different.


Of course the film is not perfect, and director Ryan Coogler has been open about the fact that he originally set out to make a completely different and male-centered film. The untimely death of the original Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman called for an overhaul of the script and the reveal of Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, as the new Black Panther. But the film’s production history does not change its status as a pioneer for Black female representation, especially in the genre of superhero cinema.


You discuss “the act of looking” in your paper. Tell us about that.

One of the lasting presumptions of early Hollywood movies was that the audience was white. To put this another way, few film-makers were catering to Black viewers and fewer still imagined Black women as a primary audience. This has changed over time, but the notion of a default white male gaze both on and off screen often remains implicit in western cinema.


It’s the first Hollywood film to showcase Black female superheroes on such an epic scale, backed by a US$250 million budget and the global reach of a juggernaut like Marvel Studios. The posters alone tell viewers that this film is doing something different.


Of course the film is not perfect, and director Ryan Coogler has been open about the fact that he originally set out to make a completely different and male-centered film. The untimely death of the original Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman called for an overhaul of the script and the reveal of Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, as the new Black Panther. But the film’s production history does not change its status as a pioneer for Black female representation, especially in the genre of superhero cinema.


You discuss “the act of looking” in your paper. Tell us about that.

One of the lasting presumptions of early Hollywood movies was that the audience was white. To put this another way, few film-makers were catering to Black viewers and fewer still imagined Black women as a primary audience. This has changed over time, but the notion of a default white male gaze both on and off screen often remains implicit in western cinema.


Organizations such the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have offered new (and controversial) strategies and standards in terms of equity and access. Starting in 2024, films must meet diversity targets in areas like “on-screen representation, themes and narratives” and “audience development” to be eligible for an Oscar. And hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite, as well as academic studies like the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, continue to track progress but also ongoing challenges where Hollywood’s diversity problem is concerned.

Comments


bottom of page