*Contains Black Panther spoilers*
I get shit done.
I start the uncomfortable conversations. I help move heavy things. I cook the food, rally troops and make a way. I make the plans, coordinate calendars, check in on folk and make sure that people are okay.
I am glue. People who are not glue see it in me. They rely on me, they come to me for help. There are a lot of them.
I am comfortable with doing my part for the team without recognition and accolades. I am driven by my own sense of what is right and wrong, treating people how I want to be treated. I also respect the decisions that other people make for themselves, even if they are not the ones I believe I’d make in the same situation.
So it is difficult, shocking even, that I did not recognize the glue that held this moment in Wakanda’s history together; I don’t know how I failed to recognize Nakia.
Former love interest of T’Challa, Nakia is the only person or thing that has weakened his resolve. In the opening scenes of Black Panther, Okoye (played by Danai Gurira) says to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), “Just don’t freeze when you see her.” He blushes and says, “What are you talking about? I don’t freeze.” But something about how he says it fails to convince viewers that he’s telling the truth.
We then cut to a scene. It is night well after sunset in a jungle. A caravan of trucks stop after they have lost their power. Men armed with assault rifles exit their trucks to figure out what is happening. A dog barks, the camera pans up into a tree where we find T’Challa, who then leaps onto the armed men. He kicks a bunch of ass. One of the captive women kicks some ass too. Suddenly, someone appears from behind a truck and T’Challa freezes, only to be rescued by Okoye, who reminds him that he did, in fact, freeze.
Nakia asks him why he ruined her mission, before he blurts out that his father, King T’Chaka, has been killed and that he has come to ask her to be present for the ceremony next day. In the aircraft home, she holds his hand between the both of hers and looks longingly and sorrowfully into his eyes. Her glances tell a story of love and tenderness. Of shared sunsets, dreams and comfort.
After T’Challa is named Black Panther, he and Nakia take a stroll through the markets of Wakanda. He asks her to stay, to return to Wakanda permanently. She laments about how the people in other countries need her help, and suggests that Wakanda share its resources with the world. He tells her that Wakanda has made its advancements by staying hidden and comments that her stubbornness would make her a terrible queen. When she says, “Its exactly why I would make a great queen,” we get the feeling that this may be just the reason they are not together anymore. Like the glue she is, wants to spread wealth and resources, while he wants to protect them. She wants to build community with Black people the world over. Though most people, including me, walked out of theaters either siding with T’Challa or N’Jadaka, it is Nakia who is their median, their compromise. Nakia’s goal is simple: for Wakanda to retain its strength and glory while saving oppressed Black people across the globe.
When N’Jadaka and T’Challa battled for the title of Black Panther, N’Jadaka threw him off over the water fall, Queen Mother Ramonda gasped and it was Nakia who gathered her and Shuri and ushered them to safety. After doing so, she went to find Okoye, she found her full of tears at the loss of her friend and king, still loyal to the throne. Okoye says, “My duty is to serve Wakanda.” Nakia responds, “My duty is to save it.” She insisted that she could not leave and though Nakia was upset over the idea of Okoye serving a violent leader like N’Jadaka, she left her to her duty as kings-guard and went to fulfill her own. Nakia did not begrudge her, and when she went back to Ramonda and Shuri, she didn’t drag her name in the mud. She told her that Okoye and the rest of the Dora Milaje would serve their king and Ramonda seemed to understand with no qualms.
Nakia bravely went to steal the very last heart shaped herb. She could have been brutally killed then if she had been caught by N’Jadaka. He, who was on a warpath, having recently choked out one of the elder garden attendants for contesting his demand to set fire to all of the crops. He decided that no one else would ever need to be crowned Black Panther and was intent on being the last.
It was Nakia who then, took Ramonda, Shuri and Agent Ross (who she had hidden inside of the office) to visit the Jabari tribe and ask humbly that M’Baku lend his army to defeating N’Jadaka and to become the Black Panther himself. Ramonda insists that Nakia take the herb to become Black Panther, stating that she is uncomfortable with the idea of M’Baku as king. She scoffs and says that she is a spy without an army. M’Baku refuses to take the herb, as well as to lend his army but leads them to T’Challa, who was in a coma, discovered by a fisherman and being kept alive on a bed of snow.
When they return for the final battle, Shuri tells Nakia to put on she Dora Milaje armor, after Shuri tells her to. “I’m not a Dora”, Nakia says. Something in this feels haunting, like a questioning of who she is and what she is loyal to, remniscent of the conversation she last had with Okoye. “But its armor. Put it on,” Shuri says. She dons the armor and goes to protect Wakanda as she knows it.
After the battle is won, she is seen with T’Challa, again in the Wakandan marketplace. He asks her to stay again and tells her that he has found a way to fulfill her dream of Wakanda saving the world; starting with a youth center in Oakland.
To quote a dear friend:
To me, she is like millions of Black women all over the world. [She is] doing the work, not for the accolades or the glory, but because it is the right thing to do. Who doesn’t need to have her praises sung, her deeds known, her name exalted because it is always about the work. We overlook them every single day in life, which is why she was overlooked in the movie.
Why do we look past these women? They are staples, backbones of communities, mules. Why do we not value them for their indispensability? Nakia is all of the things that we admire in strong women. She is kind, she is soft, she is dedicated, bold and determined. I am sure that if she chooses to do so, she will make an amazing queen. If only Wakanda and the rest of the world could be so lucky.
For my women who are my glue, who hold me up, together and down.