The blockbuster message is loud and clear.
After earning $1.7 billion at the box office making it the No. 1 movie in the world for five weeks straight, Black Panther is also clearly about the power of women of all ages to change the future of the world.
The women in the fictional utopia, Wakanda: teenage Shuri, all-female military guard Dora Milaje, Queen Ramonda, elegant elders making the top decisions on who reins and the caretakers of the heart-shaped herb, each and all offer lessons for all women leaders in pride, purpose, strategy, mission and life balance.The women of #Wakanda offer lessons for all #womenleaders in pride, purpose, strategy and life balance. Click To Tweet
“Black Panther wants us to listen to its women both because it’s the right thing to do and because that’s part of the egalitarian political society that it depicts Wakanda as being,” writes Charles Pulliam-Moore in Gizmodo. “A number of the other tribes that make up Wakanda’s ruling elites are shown as being led by women, and Nakia herself is the appointed champion of the River Tribe who, should they choose to do so, would challenge T’Challa in ritual combat for the throne.”
He adds, “Even outside of Wakanda’s politics or Black Panther’s message about Wakanda’s responsibilities, the women in the film are the force that propels the story forward.”
Humbled and exalted, here are the top eight lessons we learned from the Wakanda women that can be applied to girls and women everywhere. These all align with Take The Lead’s mission to prepare, develop, inspire and propel women of all ages to reach gender parity in leadership across all sectors by 2025.
Women of all ages are powerful. Yes, vibranium is the strongest (fictional) substance in the universe, but seeing the women of Wakanda from teens to warriors to mothers and respected elders having loud voices and earning respect in all conversations and gatherings, is the antidote to the real sexism of the past year unveiled in #MeToo. Visually, the groupings of women in colorful costumes is an external reminder of the power within. The women also align with each other, including friends Nakia and Okoye who remind each other of their vulnerabilities. There is no ageism in true sisterhood, mentorship and mission-driven movements.
Girls are smart. The younger sister of the king, Shuri, is the brains of Wakanda, a tech innovator and disruptor. She solves the nation’s problems and is not only an engineer who is capable and curious, she is also funny and lighthearted. She delivers perhaps the most potent line of the film, “Just because something works, does not mean it cannot be improved.” This can be the call to action for any and all women in the workplace, asking for new ideas and innovation to be considered and implemented. This is also the opposite of the antiquated rallying cry, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Mothers are powerful. Queen Ramonda does not sit back and play a passive role in the palace; she is involved in decision making and creation of strategies for her son, King T’Challa. Her presence signifies that motherhood is respected and that working mothers make it work. She was wife to the king, but also mother of the new king and a powerful STEM-driven daughter.
Praise for ancestors is essential. This is a lesson for all early-career and mid-career women working their ways up the ladder in any foundation, organization, corporation or business. Looking back for inspiration creates a vision for the future, the leaders remind us. Nodding to those who pioneered the way before you and incorporating the lessons they have expressed is something all women in the workplace can adopt. Still, you cannot be defined by the mistakes of those who come before you. “You can’t let your father’s mistakes define who you are,” the king is reminded.
Awareness of our own personal history is Power Tool # 1 in the 9 Leadership Power Tools as created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead. “Know your history,” Feldt says, “and you can create the future of your choice.”The #WomenOfWakanda reminds other leaders that looking back for inspiration creates a vision for the future Click To Tweet
It takes an army of women warriors. There is true gender parity on the battlefield in Wakanda, with the Dora Milaje women warriors led by General Okoye, showing skills in hand to hand combat and such extreme fitness that they beat and slay their male opponents. “You are the greatest warrior Wakanda has ever known,” she is told. The women warriors also choose to fight only when absolutely necessary.
Choice is yours. Nakia is good on her own, she explains to the king, who is her former love. She has plans to use vibranium to save the planet and works on humanitarian projects outside Wakanda, including the rescue of kidnapped girls. “I would make a great queen because I am stubborn, if that is what I wanted,” she tells T’Challa.
Cultivate your resources. The Wakanda women in charge of the heart-shaped herb carefully cultivated the finite resources and understood the power of what they had in their hands and its most potent uses. Power Tool # 3 in the 9 Leadership Power Tools are created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead, articulates this: Use What You’ve Got. As Fedlt says, “What you need is almost always there. See it and use it with courage. Because power unused is power useless.”
Find a purpose, create a mission. The end of the film resolves the conflict of the movie, not good vs. evil as much as internal vs. external. Wakanda leaders decide they will not contain their vibranium to keep themselves isolated, but they will expand their mission to solve the problems of the world. The king explains to his sister and love that he has purchased land and buildings in Oakland, California. They will be the sites of the Wakanda International Outreach Center and the Wakanda Science and Information Exchange. Both women find their calling and pursue their dreams.
This is articulated in Power Tool # 9, Take Action, Create a Movement. As Feldt says, “Things don’t just happen. People make them happen in a systematic way. And you can change systems. Apply the three movement building principles of Sister Courage (be a sister, act with courage, put them together to create a PLAN) and you will realize your vision at work, at home, or in public life.”
In his review of the film, Vann R.Newkirk II writes in The Atlantic, that the ultimate question for the characters is, “What will they do with the power they do have to make the world livable for those without it?”
So we ask ourselves the very same question.