It’s been a while since I was so excited for a movie that I saw it twice in its opening week. While waiting to prepurchase tickets for Black Panther, I developed an unhealthy obsession with Fandango, and my wallet wept when the Funko POP! figures were released. I was excited to go to Wakanda, y’all, and Wakanda did not disappoint.
Except for one aspect.
See, something was revealed about the movie before its release: a missed opportunity for queer representation. Back in April, news spread of a rough cut in which Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) did a bit of flirting. Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson had this to say:
In the rough cut of this Black Panther scene, we see Gurira’s Okoye and Kasumba’s Ayo swaying rhythmically back in formation with the rest of their team. Okoye eyes Ayo flirtatiously for a long time as the camera pans in on them. Eventually, she says, appreciatively and appraisingly, ‘You look good.’ Ayo responds in kind. Okoye grins and replies, ‘I know.’
Shortly after the story broke, Marvel reached out to say that no, their relationship was not a romantic one (as stated in the update to Robinson’s article). Oh, and it turns out, the scene was cut from the film, hence the “missed opportunity” commentary on every single article that pops up if you Google the words “Black Panther queer” right now. Co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole said this in an interview with Screen Crush:
I think the short answer is yes. I know that there were quite a few conversations around different things, different directions with different characters, and characters that we may have. We thought, ‘Well, maybe we’ll work it this way with an arc or work it that way with an arc.’
The scene you’re talking about, I don’t remember. I can’t remember the exact exchange you’re talking about, but I think it was really brief. I’m not sure. I know that it was not – there wasn’t some major theme through that we were looking to explore with that in terms of the story.
I sat there, waiting to feel betrayed, like Santa didn’t deliver the puppy I wanted, no matter how good I’d been. It’s an all-too-familiar feeling as a black, queer woman: the Hollywood game of “Queerness? What’s that?” Some exceptions may apply, like if it’s a niche movie that won’t have an entire toy section dedicated to it or that one side character whose name you don’t remember. And, of course, there’s Netflix or television (and I’ve praised Black Lightning character Anissa Pierce to the heaven’s above). But when it comes to those multimillion-dollar box-office hits? Yeah, no.
Seeing Black Panther, I was fully prepared to be salty. But the salt never hit me. I went out, saw the movie, got home and ... no salt. Just pure black joy.
So then I thought, “Wow, Bri, what kind of queer woman are you?” I should’ve been cursing Ryan Coogler out, swift and fast like my mama taught me when someone pisses me off. But after thinking it over, I’m happy the scene didn’t make it into the movie, and that feels blasphemous to admit as someone who is always championing representation—especially for queer folks of color like me.
Before I explain why, let me preface it by saying two things: 1) I don’t expect every queer person of color to feel this way, and neither should anyone reading this. We’re not some monolith that is always gonna see eye to eye, so don’t be out here using my words to discredit someone’s valid feelings. 2) People who have expressed disappointment with the scene’s removal have still found joy in the movie. It doesn’t make them hypocrites; it just means that they’re capable of criticizing something they love. And that’s how improvement happens.
I’m gonna level with you, as someone who’s been squinting through heteronormative romance to try and find a whisper of queerness: Okoye and Ayo flirting with each other ain’t enough for me anymore. It’s the bare minimum of queer representation—the table scraps—especially if it’s two women, and especially if those two women are attractive.
Let’s be real: T’Challa and Nakia are getting whole-ass scenes that go beyond, “I looked at you, then you looked at me.” That’s what I want more of in my queer representation, especially considering the source material that people were referencing when discussing Okoye and Ayo: World of Wakanda.
Written by Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey, this story is about Ayo and another Dora Milaje named Aneka (who doesn’t appear in the movie, but people suspected Okoye had taken her place as a love interest). In the book, Ayo and Aneka are the focal points, and they’re allowed to develop as both characters and lovers with each turn of the page.
I can understand the excitement of potentially including this aspect in the movie, but that breeze of commentary between Okoye and Ayo? That ain’t it. A moment like that can get easily swept away as, “You’re reading too much into this,” or even, “That’s just how women are.”
After all, if Katy Perry taught us anything, it’s that she kissed a girl—and she liked it—but don’t read too much into it. To do this plot justice, there’d need to be multiple interactions between those women, ones that didn’t solely revolve around flirtation.
I didn’t think that was gonna happen with Black Panther. I would’ve loved to see it, especially with all the time and care put into portraying Africa and black culture. But you know what else came with that clear love letter to Africa? Boycotts and plans to give negative reviews, because we’re clearly trying to take over white superhero-dom.
Now imagine, for a moment, the reaction if we also had queerness within this blackity-black movie. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it; you can read the comments on any article that dares to complain about the scene’s removal. Nothing says encouragement to implement some intersectionality like being told to let folks enjoy the damn movie without making things so “political”—even if there’s already a comic featuring queer Dora Milaje.
So maybe Coogler and his crew are pacing themselves. Actress Florence Kasumba (who plays Ayo) recently spoke to Jamie Broadnax and Abraham Riesman in an Interview for Vulture about it. For the record, Kasumba is here for queer Ayo, but also had this to add:
The thing is, if the makers would have wanted everyone to see the scene, it would have been in the movie. The final result that we’ve seen, there were a few scenes that have been cut. Different scenes, also. They didn’t make it into the movie for certain reasons, and at that point, I have to say: What their reason is, I can’t tell you, because nobody told me about whether it’s in or not.
But at this point, I personally think people have no idea who T’Challa is, who are the Wakandans, what is Wakanda, where is Wakanda, what is their culture. There are so many important things that had to be told in these two hours. So the focus was on what is so important for T’Challa.
I realize that all of this is a frustrating pill to swallow. And real talk: If there’s any group that’s used to being told, “Your representation might be there later,” it’s queer POC. Black Panther made his first appearance back in 1966, and it took 50 years for there to be a comic based primarily on two queer characters ... and it quickly got canceled. So yeah, those disappointed reactions? Completely justified. I might want better representation before I settle on any ol’ thing, but I also know that when you’re starving, table scraps are savored like a full-course meal.
But if there’s something I want you to take away from this, it’s that we’re actually discussing queer women of color making a big-screen appearance, and we’re being taken seriously. This scene has started something, and if Coogler puts as much effort into artfully portraying queerness as he did blackness, the future movies in the series will be the most intersectional thing in any movie-verse, not just Marvel’s.
I never thought my cynical, eye-rolling, “Of course the queer scene got cut” self would be saying this, but I think the forces behind this movie are capable of giving queer characters the respect they deserve.
We’re not there yet, but I think we can be in the future.