Okoye, Nakia, and Black Women in Crises
Pause. If you have not seen “Black Panther,” STOP! Do not pass go or collect $200. This post contains spoilers. You have been warned.
When Casey, our editor, asked me to write a post about “Black Panther” after I saw the movie, I thought it would be easy. I can honestly say that’s not the case. I’m struggling, but not because the movie was bad. In fact, the movie exceeded my expectations. I was a little scared that this movie was going to be bad; I’ve been let down at the box office by black movies before (See: “Proud Mary”), and I have serious trust issues because of it. However, that’s not an issue with “Black Panther.” It was all of that and a bag of Flaming Hot Cheeetos.
How am I supposed to convey the levels hidden within each line of dialogue in this movie? How am I supposed to reach into your soul and deliver a Word that will touch your heart and leave you completely in awe?That’s what this movie did to me and to all of my friends who’ve seen it. I’m a good writer, but I’m not that good.
So instead of trying to convey all of these emotions to you and NOT write something that hasn’t already been written by dozens of other black people out here, I’m going to talk about one particular scene that knocked the air out of my lungs.
After Erick Killmonger “kills” T’Challa, Nakia seeks out Okoye, the general of the Dora Milaje, in an effort to protect the royal family and stage a coup against Killmonger. In the scene, Okoye is visibly shaken to the point of tears as she inquires about the Queen and Shuri. We can see that while T’Challa is her King, he is also her friend and she truly cares about him. Nakia implores Okoye to use the Dora Milaje to get rid of the usurper, and Okoye refuses. She says something along the lines of, “I sympathize with the family, but my loyalty is to my country.” She can’t stage a coup or leave with Nakia because she has to stay behind and protect her country. She is honor bound to uphold her duty to the Kingdom of Wakanda, and that loyalty is ironclad. WHOOSH.
That sounds like America in 2017, 2018, and beyond. How many people, especially black women, are still in their government jobs because they know that someone has to keep the lights on? They are the ones who suffer in silence because they know that someone has to be there to try to keep things from becoming worse than they already are. Somebody has to steer the ship in the right direction while they put out the small fires when they pop up. Is it a black woman’s job? No, but it always seems to end up that way. Black women are always the steady and dependable crisis managers. Maybe that’s why so many of us connected with “Scandal” when the show first started. We have been the Olivia Pope’s since birth.
We’ve talked plenty of times about how Black women continuously save the day and fix almost any problem thrown our way. So, I think this scene presented me with two different understandings of Black women in crisis situations. On one hand, there’s Okoye, who holds down the fort and keeps an eye on things, and then there’s Nakia, who goes out to find any and all possible solutions. Think about who you are in a crisis situation. Are you a Nakia or an Okoye? This doesn’t mean that Black women deserve to suffer in silence. Hell no. We don’t deserve that; however, those who know that they have the mental, physical, and emotional fortitude to do it for the sake of others will often choose to do so. Okoye could’ve easily said “Fuck honor and duty, long live T’Challa, down with Killmonger.” But, she stayed because she knew that Nakia, Shuri and the Queen could not. Not because they weren’t strong women, but because that was not their part to play in this game. Furthermore, they couldn’t see past their emotions at that point to not make any rash decisions that would have dire consequences, and that’s something that a lot of people are not capable of.
Think about the government now. In January 2017, so many people decided that they couldn’t handle working for this administration so they immediately jumped ship and flooded the private and non-profit sector. And it’s not like all of those people left those jobs to join the resistance. They just didn’t want to deal with the bullshit so they sought opportunities elsewhere. I’m not judging them for their choices, but if everyone leaves, who’s going to stay behind to make sure shit gets done? Black women and other women of color. Guaranteed.
This doesn’t mean that Okoye is some unfeeling, unshakeable character, because that’s now she’s portrayed on screen. It’s certainly not how we are as Black women. I’m sure that at night, Okoye took off her armor, both mentally and physically, and had a breakdown about what she felt like she must do. I’m sure she cried into her pillow, ate some delicious Wakandan ice cream, and drank some amazing wine from the freshest crushed grapes in the Kingdom. I know that she had her moment, just like I’ve had my moment, and just like all black women have had their moments. In this particular scene, I saw such parallels to Black women in today’s society that it literally took my breath away. I couldn’t help but think of the 94 percent of Black women in the 2016 election, Black women voters in the recent Alabama and Virginia elections, and Black women every damn day of the week. Furthermore, I saw myself in Okoye, and it hit me square in the chest. The fact that I was able to see it portrayed on screen, in such an obvious way, was absolutely astounding to me.
Well done Ryan Coogler, well done.