Black Panther, especially the version of T’Challa as a character in the MCU, has been surrounded by strong, empowered female characters since the beginning, both in and outside his immediate family. Much like the introductory movie of the franchise, the latest sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” boasts a good number of POC female characters. To fill the sudden void in the Black Panther lore due to titular character actor Chadwick Boseman’s unfortunate demise, the creators chose to build compelling character portrayals around these female members. This choice of narrative progression comes naturally as previously established characters like Okoye and Nakia were some of the closest persons of T’Challa, and therefore, their arc continues to get affected by his death; also, new characters like Riri Williams are introduced to continue MCU’s layout for legacy characters – a theme which concerns Wakanda’s future also. The movie presents an interesting picture of how different relationships cope with the loss of a person—in this context, a lover to Nakia and a friend to Okoye.
Okoye In ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’
General of Dora Milaje, as well as of the security forces, Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is the strongest pillar of Wakanda’s defense in T’Challa’s absence. Much like Queen Ramonda, she had to lose T’Challa twice. During the events of “Avengers: Infinity War,” she saw her king and good friend, who was fighting by her side, end up vanishing due to the effects of Thanos’ snap. Okoye was instrumental in Wakandan efforts to aid the world and maintain internal security during the five years after the “snap” until the events of “Avengers: Endgame” brought T’Challa and Shuri back. In “Wakanda Forever,” she loses T’Challa for the second and final time, something that must have added a sense of helplessness and failure to her already extremely dutiful self. After the news of T’Challa’s death spreads, Wakanda is constantly targeted and even attacked by former colonizers and first-world aggressors for its precious mystic metal, vibranium. To protect Wakanda’s sovereignty, Queen Ramonda depends on the Dora Milaje, led by Okoye. The sequence where Okoye and Dora Milaje surprise raiding mercenaries at an outpost with the tribal signal cued it is definitely one of the standout moments in the movie.
An expert combatant in both close quarters and long-range, skilled in tactical and strategic warfare, Okoye is also a skilled pilot, as she flew a Royal Talon Fighter while escorting the country’s royalty. Inside her fierce and loyal demeanor, Okoye is a sensible person, too, as she realizes that to help young princess Shuri get out of her internal shackles of guilt and pain, she must indulge in productive pursuits. This is the main reason why she asks Ramonda’s permission to take Shuri along with her on the mission to the United States. But irrespective of how well-intentioned her thoughts are, she proves to be no match for the Talokan warriors who abduct Shuri and Riri Williams after incapacitating Okoye. In her defense, though, she fought the superhumanly strengthened Talokans valiantly all by herself, but the brutish Attuma managed to best her.
After returning to Wakanda, Okoye describes the incidents to the Queen and the council and is eager to retrieve the duo, but a distraught Queen punishes her for her short-sightedness by relieving her of her duty as a general and also as a member of the Dora Milaje. Okoye almost begs her to let her die as a warrior rather than strip her of her purpose.
After Namor floods Wakanda and Queen Ramonda passes away, Okoye tries to do her best in Wakandan retaliation efforts. She recruits her former Dora Milaje colleague Aneka to form a separate team and dons the exo-suit made by Shuri, named “Midnight Angels.” In the comic books, Midnight Angels are the cream portion of Dora Milaje, the most elite faction. With the introduction of Midnight Angels, Doctor Doom’s arrival also gets hinted at, as he is closely connected to the storyline. However, providing mechanical armor to fighters who depend more on their physical capabilities was unnecessary, as Okoye defeating Attuma in the second bout of their fight would have been more impactful if she weren’t protected and enhanced with the armor. Okoye signifies Wakanda’s courage and strength, which is shown to keep enemies at bay.
Nakia In ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’
We meet former War Dog (Wakandan intelligence agency) and T’Challa’s lover, Nakia, after Queen Ramonda goes to Haiti to seek her help in retrieving Shuri and Riri from Talokan. Ramonda asks her about her absence during T’Challa’s funeral. We also get to know Nakia has not been to Wakanda for the last six years. The reason for both is clarified later in the movie.
Using her infiltration skills and experience in espionage, Nakia interviews the Mexican tribes surrounding the Yucatan Peninsula and locates the surface entry point to the kingdom of Talokan. Nakia successfully rescues them both, but unfortunately, during a scuffle, she wounds a Talokan attendant fatally. This particular event enrages Namor to the point that he floods Wakanda, which results in Ramonda’s death. After Queen’s death, Nakia assumed the position of Shuri’s guardian as she was the closest person to Shuri outside her immediate family. She is also the first person to congratulate Shuri after she manages to successfully synthesize the heart-shaped herb, and she knows the importance of this event in the context of Wakanda’s history, especially when the country is at its weakest. Therefore, she aptly describes it as being as important as Bashenga’s (the first Black Panther) discovery. After Shuri’s experience in the ancestral plane darkens her heart with an urge for revenge, Nakia presents herself as a voice of morality and reason to her. She tries to guide her in the right direction by stating Shuri’s quest for vengeance can consume her if she does not let herself heal, a statement that mimics T’Challa’s words to Baron Zemo in “Captain America: Civil War.” During Wakanda’s war against Talokan, she fights in her River tribe’s garb using her ring blades.
After the battle is over, Shuri goes to Haiti to meet Nakia and perform the ritual of the cloth burning. It is then revealed that T’Challa and Nakia had a son, Touissant, and Nakia was raising him in Haiti, away from the pressure of the crown or kingdom. The reason why Nakia didn’t visit Wakanda and had a hard time attending T’Challa’s funeral is revealed, and Shuri gets some solace knowing Ramonda was aware of this before her death, and now she has a new family to call her own. It is Nakia’s advice that led T’Challa to open Wakanda to the rest of the world at the end of the first movie, thereby stepping up as an ideal king; and it’s befitting that it’s she who provides the new Black Panther, Shuri, a sense of belonging at the end of the sequel. If Okoye symbolizes Wakanda’s strength outwards, Nakia signifies the nation’s inner strength. Lupita Nyong’o portrayed the role of Nakia with a certain finesse and grace that is typical of the character.
Riri Williams, AKA Ironheart, In ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’
In the movie, Riri is introduced as a teenage MIT student, a genius inventor, and a science prodigy who created the vibranium detector machine from mere scraps in her garage. In the comic book universe, Riri Williams was first introduced in the comic book “Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3” #9 (July 2016), which was created by Mike Deodato and Brian Michael Bendis. Ironheart is a legacy character who admires Tony Stark, created her own Exo armor modeled after Stark’s Ironman suits, and goes by the name “Ironheart.” In the movie, Riri also fashions armor of her own by modeling it after Iron Man’s and uses it to flee the CIA with Shuri and Okoye. Riri also has a sense of reverence for Wakanda and its associated characters, as her initial scenes with Shuri seem almost like Stark recruiting Peter Parker in “Civil War.” Riri’s presence also constitutes the central crisis of the movie due to the fact that Shuri’s willingness to save her life started the war between Talokans and Wakandans. Riri also designed a comic-accurate, vibranium-molded suit for the battle with the Talokans but had to, unfortunately, leave that at Wakanda due to international complications.
Riri provides some comic relief with Okoye in the movie. Being a woman of science, she can connect to Shuri on a level that no one else can. However, Riri often feels like a literal MacGuffin character, introduced only to suit a different purpose. She isn’t even that much inspired by Tony Stark, mentioning him only once in the movie, which is strange because one of the worst mistakes MCU made earlier is by making MCU Spider-man, Ironman’s lackey. Understandably, the MCU is building the roster of Young Avengers but shoehorning Riri Williams was a similar kind of laziness that took place in “Multiverse of Madness” by inserting America Chavez without crafting a proper backstory. Actor Dominique Thorne will return to reprise the role in the “Ironheart” series next year on Disney+.
See more: Women Of Wakanda, Explained: Role Of Ramonda And Shuri In The ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’