Nakia is the Unsung Hero of ‘Black Panther’
Nakia is the MVP of “Black Panther”— if anyone is revolutionary here, it is her.
By Clarkisha Kent
It has been nearly two weeks since “Black Panther” came out. And in that time, I have become obsessed with the film. And I have managed to watch it at least three times and counting. And like many fans of the film are discussing, I’ve usually walked away with some different meaning or reading or interpretation based on that viewing. Lines get re-drawn. Points are re-defined and readapted. And you consider a point of view that perhaps you didn’t consider before.
Still, that said, there is one more thing I have managed to not waver on, even as I have watched the film like 2345678186527 times:
That Nakia—Not Erik Killmonger or even T’Challa—was right all along.
I have asked myself so many times why the hell Nakia is being left out of serious discussions on who’s right and who’s wrong. Granted Erik is the primary antagonist in the film and his experiences create the tension built upon the terrible implications of Wakanda’s isolation and his father’s murder, part of the focus needs to be on his development. Same goes for T’Challa since this is literally his show. It also doesn’t help that both of them are pretty attractive. With the help of some good ol’ misogynoir, Nakia’s point was almost lost among of this tedious battle of egos, feelings of pride, and sins of the father. However, even with that being the case, her relevance in this cultural conversation cannot be denied and here are some reasons why:
1. Without Nakia, T’Challa would have died and Wakanda would have fallen.
For a woman whose intentions and allegiances are constantly questioned by others in the film because of her status as a spy and her refusal to ignore the blights of the outside world (re: saving Black people who are not Wakandans), Nakia does a hell of a lot to save Wakanda. Perhaps more than any other character in the movie, especially when things go haywire and Erik usurps the throne.
When T’Challa is presumed dead after an intense bout of ritual combat with Erik, Nakia takes the initiative and gets Queen Ramonda and Shuri to safety before Erik can put his grubby paws on them. Later, when she witnesses Erik choking out an elder over the preservation of the heart-shaped herb, she actually sneaks into the spiritual chamber and steals one of the herbs to hopefully use against him in the climactic battle.
She then decides that she will give the herb to M’Baku as he would have a fighting chance and Queen Ramonda recommends that Nakia eat it because she does not trust him. She totally could too if she was as self-interested as Erik is. However, because she is not, she declines and pragmatically points out that she has no army so it would be a waste. What happens next is a Mary and Mary Magdalene level twist where Nakia and the others discover that T’Challa is alive and was saved by the Jabari tribe. From there, T’Challa makes his triumphant return to the throne and stops Erik’s plan for global domination. But make no mistake, without Nakia’s quick thinking or expansive skillset or her humility toward M’Baku and the Jabari tribe (because let’s be real, there was obviously some tension there), she was not only able to save the protagonist’s life (which is a nice and welcome switcheroo when it comes to love interest roles), but she ends up saving Wakanda—the very country and home that everyone in this film is either hellbent on protecting or destroying.
No Nakia = No T’Challa—because he would have surely died and no Wakanda—as Erik surely would have destabilized Wakanda just like he’s destabilized every other country he’s fought on behalf of America and its imperialist empire with his so-called plan.
And speaking of this plan:
2. As far as plans go, Nakia is hip to how Wakanda’s game of isolationism has been trash and has a better way to rectify it.
Everyone thinks the real revolutionary is Erik (with his plan of Black people + weapons + nothing more = liberation) but in actuality? It’s Nakia. I mean, I’m not going to take away the validity of Erik calling out Wakanda and their centuries-long game of bystander syndrome that came at a high price—one that cost the rest of the African continent dearly. That said, his plans for liberation were ultimately short-sighted and unsound and only relied on death and destruction to bring about change. This is with no hopes of rebirth, restoration, or reformation.
This is not the case with Nakia. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Nakia brings up the fact that Wakanda should ditch its isolationist policies early on in the film to her [ex]-love T’Challa. This is informed by what she has seen in her time abroad as a spy. She gives an impassioned speech about why Wakanda dragging their feet on this is not a good look and honestly says something about their sense of morality. She details that Wakanda has the power, money, technology, and resources to free her sibling countries on the continent—the right way—and argues that they could “do it better”. And just so we don’t think Nakia is all talk when it comes to this, the first time we see her appear in the film, she is literally on an undercover mission to save Nigerian girls from what looks like a stand-in for Boko Haram.
Support Wear Your Voice: “Nakia, Okoye, Shuri, Ramonda” Panther Collection
See? Nakia is about doing the work. And she is all about getting her hands dirty to accomplish this. So why is it that her viewpoint has not been as popular in this mainstream discussion? Of course, for me, it would be so easy to just blame it on misogynoir (seeing as that is what it mostly boils down too), but there are actually other things at play, especially when we consider liberation and the goal of saving and freeing Black lives. What am I getting at? Well, it has long been discussed that “Black Panther” is all about dichotomies and in this case, I see the film highlighting the difference between activists and advocates—through Erik and Nakia respectively—and what exactly happens when the former position is taken advantage of and perverted.
Organizers who happen to be Black femmes, Queer Black folx, and Trans Black folx will probably get war flashbacks as soon as I say this, but Erik reminds me of every cishet Black male “activist” that I encountered during my organizing days in college. They were always very bombastic, very charming, exceedingly charismatic, and always had “great ideas” in the abstract. They never had any real plans to implement their ideas or use them to engage the community at the center of their “activism”. These are the men who would show up to marches and protests with megaphones and semi-catchy chants (Black femmes and Queer/Trans Black folx always came up with better chants), but never linked up with these Black femme organizers to actually plan these marches and protests or helped with the clean up afterward or reach or reached out to the community that they were supposedly helping with this direct action. And at their worst? They morphed into reactions like Erik.
Advocates like Nakia counter this. She reminds me of larger-than-life, yet grounded Black femme activists that I met back then as well. They, just like Nakia, were about doing the work…regardless of if proper credit was given to them. They were the ones to plan the protests, the marches, the rallies; to reach out to the families of slain Black people to see how they could help; to step into government offices and refuse to leave until something was done. This kind of work not only required them to deeply immerse themselves in the community around them, but it also required that they exercise great empathy and discernment and now exactly when to step back when the community was ready to advocate for itself. And this is an empathy that possesses no ulterior motives and does not depend on the blood-lust or imperialistic aspirations. Erik, for all his intellect and passion, wouldn’t have known how to carry something like that out.
This is why Nakia is the MVP of “Black Panther”— if anyone is revolutionary here, it is her. She has always been ready to answer the call of Black people in Africa and abroad and has never required the blood sacrifice of her people to save them.
And for that? I stan.
Author Bio: Clarkisha Kent, aka Lex Luther, aka [REDACTED] doubles, triples, and quadruples as a Blerd, a Crystal Gem, and a Care-Free Black Girl. She is the co-creator of the entertainment blog Sublime Zoo and co-creator of the podcast We Robbed A Zoo. She has also been featured on The Root, The Establishment, and BET. Fun Fact: Her nemeses include Lena Dunham, Frank Grillo, and Taylor Swift.