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‘Wakanda Forever’ and Exploring the Dora Milaje’s Beauty of Combat

‘Wakanda Forever’ and Exploring the Dora Milaje’s Beauty of Combat

In 2018. when the Dora Milaje appeared in Black Panther, they paved the way for an evolution in the entertainment industry: Black female superheroes on film. 

Before Black Panther, Black female characters doing complex combat were ignored as action heroes in major motion pictures. Pam Grier was the closest we had to an action hero in the blaxploitation films of the 1970s. It wasn’t until the 2000s, when Halle Berry played Storm in X-Men, that a Black woman would embody a “mainstream” superhero. Unfortunately, Storm was always a supporting character; her hand-to-hand combat focused on levitating above everyone and knocking her advisories out with the weather. 

Hollywood has a tradition of casting Black women, particularly dark-skinned Black women, as victims. So when the Dora Milaje glided onto the screen with their feminine power and expert fighting skills, the box office numbers soared. The Dora Milaje burst through the action hero glass ceiling and made it possible for more Black female superheroes to be centered in film. The Woman King would not have been possible without the success of Black Panther. 

One of the reasons why the Dora Milaje captured our imagination was the beauty of their immaculate style of combat. When co-writer and director of Black Panther Ryan Coogler breaks down a pivotal fight scene for Vanity Fair, he showcases General Okoye (Danai Gurira) in Act 2 of Black Panther in the Korean casino. Coogler explains the fight choreography, the significance of costumes, hair, and even what the colors on screen represent. He describes the fighting style of the Dora Milaje as traditional and Okoye’s baldness being a badge of honor. 

The Dora Milaje’s weapons of choice, the Vibranium spear, and the sonic spear, are true marvels. Erik Stevens, aka Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), describes the sonic spear as “a handheld sonic cannon powerful enough to stop a tank.” Okoye uses her Vibranium spear throughout the scene in the Korean casino. This weapon is versatile enough to be hidden in the folds of Okoye’s strappy red gown, light enough to be thrown through the air at high speed, and strong enough to destroy an oncoming vehicle. 

In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Episode 4, “The Whole World is Watching,” Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and her partner confront the new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell), to take Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) into custody as Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) look on. The Dora Milaje are not enhanced individuals; their fighting skills come from years of training, vibranium weapons, and armor. The three women best four men, and the best part of it all, their combat is like a dance with swooping movements combined with a distinct cadence and tight rhythm.The fight choreography of the Dora Milaje is unique in the MCU. These female warriors are the Kingsguard, experts in hand-to-hand combat, and work in teams to protect and serve. 

As we see more women warriors portrayed in cinema, I love that filmmakers are not just taking women and placing them into the male perspective of fighting. The fact that the Dora Milaje’s primary weapon is a spear is brilliant. The spear is a simple protection tool used by humanity since the dawn of time. In the hands of the Dora Milaje, its complexity is a wonder to behold. Movements are fluid, mesmerizing, almost dance-like, but with deadly force when needed. The Dora Milaje use their weight strategically and outthink their opponents, combining speed, flexibility, and skill to outwit opponents to win.

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A fantastic example is the battle formations used in the fight scene between Killmonger and a regimen of Dora Milaje led by Okoye towards the climax battle in Black Panther. Killmonger is full-on strength, muscle, and pumped-up Black Panther power. One Dora Milaje on her own would not be able to take him down, but in community, they are a force to be reckoned with. The women warriors work together in formations that have been practiced for years, creating a formidable battle against the enhanced human. It’s striking that the Dora Milaje are not superhuman. They are highly trained. That skill has been honed for years, and knowledge paired with resources and technology allows them to be the force that protects Wakanda against enemies who wish to steal their resources and break down their strong community and rich culture. 

In the MCU universe, we all know the categories of “superheroes”: gods, enhanced humans, and magicians. The only superhero who remained a basic human being was Tony Stark, and his abilities came from generational wealth. If Tony Stark hadn’t had the financial support of his parents, he wouldn’t have been able to go to college and focus all of his energy on growing his genius. If Howard Stark didn’t make his money off WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, Tony wouldn’t have continued the family tradition and created Iron Man and all of the Stark tech used in the MCU. 

In contrast, the Dora Milaje are in a particular category in the MCU (along with Black Widow, Hawkeye, and others). They are human beings whose strength comes from training and technology. You could easily say they are the Wakandan military. Framing Black women as the protective force of an advanced nation hidden in plain sight on the African continent makes me proud. It always has.

Thinking of the Dora Milaje makes me think of Black women warriors in America who were conductors on the Underground Railroad; Black women warriors like Fannie Mae Hamer who worked on the front lines of the civil rights movement, organizing and registering over 50,000 Black folks to vote in the 1960s, feet on the ground without social media; and Black women who get up every day and exist entirely in their power. Today their very existence is a testament to Black excellence and an act of revolution. 

I love that we live in a time that Black women are being centered as powerful warriors embracing the beauty of combat. I don’t know about you, but having images like these help me face whatever unknown challenges this life throws at me. I can twirl a broomstick around, and in my imagination, it’s my Vibranium sonic spear and I’m Ayo partnering up with Okoye to protect Wakanda. 

The beauty of combat allows me to see myself in my power as a Black woman warrior through the Dora Milaje, as an unstoppable force of nature. And that, my friends, feels amazing.

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