– by David Kozlowski

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther hits theaters very, very soon and leads directly into Avengers: Infinity War a few months later. This is a very important MCU film, as it introduces not only several major new characters, but also the (fictional) country of Wakanda and its unique, diverse culture. Black Panther (along with Ant-Man and The Wasp in July) also signals Marvel’s shift towards a broader representation of ethnicity and gender. These factors may or may not influence your decision to see the movie, but it’s undeniable that it’s broadening the appeal of these movies to at least a couple under-served audiences.

Aside from its nearly all-black cast, writer, and director one of the more overlooked aspects of Black Panther are its female characters, who are absolutely the equals of their male counterparts in every way. In fact, one of the key goals of Black Panther is breaking down some of the stereotypes, cliches, tropes too-frequently applied to women in superhero films.

Related – Black Panther Releases Series Of Badass Character Posters

Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and Letitia Wright (The Commuter) star as Nakia and Shuri — two of the strongest women in Wakanda. So don’t expect either of these characters to wait around for Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa to come rescue them, instead, these two might be the ones coming to save his bacon.

Nyong’o and Wright spoke with Teen Vogue and described what attracted them to these roles:

LW: “Playing [Shuri] was so refreshing. She’s strong, and she can kick butt. She’s intelligent, she loves Wakanda, and she loves creating technology to protect her people… Even with some of the male characters [in the movie], you see moments when they are weak. Shuri was the sort of character I went home and studied to find out the reason she does things.”

LN: “[Director Ryan Coogler] made a point of avoiding the expected female-rival narrative. In this genre, where spandex is involved, oftentimes the women are pitted against each other. In our story, there are so many different women holding their own space. Women may be in competition with each other, sure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an absence of love or respect… You see [our characters] work together, and you see a dynamic that is really encouraging.”

Both actresses stressed that Black Panther is an empowering vehicle for both genders, one that challenged their expectations and excited them about future possibilities (Wakanda and all of these characters play crucial roles in Avengers: Infinity War):

LW: “I’m excited for what Black Panther is about to do, not just for young black boys and girls, but for everyone. There’s a black superhero, but then we’re going to have more Asian superheroes and more from India. The solution to the problem being: We don’t have enough of this, so we’re going to make more. I’m excited!”

LN: “In Kenya, I grew up watching Mexican soaps, Australian soaps, and American stuff. I didn’t feel like TV was so diverse — but I just took it in stride. What’s really exciting about this is if I can project my humanity onto people who don’t look like me, from cultures that aren’t like mine, why on earth shouldn’t it be the same in reverse?”

Both actors had a lot more to say, and I encourage you to read the entire interview (they share several more cool insights about the film too). Hopefully, Wright is correct in that the success of Black Panther could lead to even more opportunities for actors of all ethnicities and gender identities to play in this amazing sandbox. The more Marvel reflects America’s diverse demographics the more it grows its audience — and we all win when that happens!

How do you feel about the equal emphasis of male and female characters in Black Panther? Let us know in the comments down below!

Black Panther hits theaters on February 16, 2018.

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SOURCE: Teen Vogue

David Kozlowski is a writer, podcaster, and visual artist. A U.S. Army veteran, David worked 20 years in the videogame industry and is a graduate of Arizona State University's Film and Media Studies.