Go Deep With The Badass Women Who Are The Dora Milaje From Marvel’s Black PantherPosted by Wilson Morales
February 20, 2019
With a record setting $242M in the first four days, Marvel’s Black Panther is certainly the hit audiences wanted. So many factors were clicking and flying on all cylinders. From the direction, the casting, the script, the production design, the costume and many more. By the time we go into week 2 or week 3, everyone involved with the film will be known.
Directed by Ryan Coogler from a screenplay he co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole, Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
With a cast of that includes Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Isaach de Bankolé, and John Kani, part of the film that’s appealing is the presence of Black Panther’s all-female bodyguards known as the Dora Milaje.
Wakandan for ‘Adored Ones,’ the Dora Milaje protect the king and the royal family of Wakanda. These bald women are the best and the strongest from the 18 villages all over the nation. They’re recruited young and trained away from home at the royal palace. As Slashfilm.com describes them, “Well-versed in martial arts, weaponry, and diplomacy, these women are a force to be feared and admired.”
With the exception of Danai Gurira, who plays General Okoye and Florence Kasumba, who plays Ayo and who also appeared in Captain America: Civil War, the rest of the Dora Milaje are nameless and comprised by actresses, dancers and stuntwomen. The are Shaunette Renee Wilson (1992), Christine Hollingsworth (1992), Marija Abney, Sydelle Noel, Janeshia Adams-Ginyard, Jénel Stevens, Zola Williams, Marie Mouroum, & Maria Hippolyte.
If you recognized some of the faces, that’s because you have seen them elsewhere. Shaunette Renee Wilson is best known for her roles on Showtime’s Billions, and currently stars as Mina Okafor, a Nigerian surgeon in The Resident, Fox’s medical drama produced by Antoine Fuqua. Sydelle Noel plays Cherry “Junkchain” Bang, one of the featured wrestlers in Netflix’s latest original series, GLOW. Janeshia Adams-Ginyard’s work as a stuntwoman has included 25 movies and TV shows such as “American Horror Story,” “9-1-1,” “The Mindy Project,” and the upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War.”
In an earlier interview with Blackfilm.com, Danai Gurira spoke about going totally bald for the role, stating “It’s a very big difference actually from having short hair to having absolutely no hair. I got there in a few days. It’s interesting, like when you’re sleeping, there’s that fuzz of protection that you have and you get used to it after a while. I had gone to the wedding of a member from The Walking Dead and I just rocked it out and that was the day I accepted being bald. Everyone was so embracing of it. I loved it too that day. Just put it all together and put on some clothes and went out in the world with it, and I suddenly loved it. Really loved it.”
“I’m normally bald, but the other women had to shave their heads for this. And it ranged from loc’d hair to big natural curls and to be able to support them during this big chop was amazing,” she said. “I would wear wigs for auditioning and it wasn’t until i got completely comfortable with my baldness that i felt like myself. So for me, it’s extremely empowering to be represented as myself and be in a film and to have my look…to not cover it up.” said Marija Abney, while speaking with StyleCaster.com.
In speaking with BlackGirlNerds.com, Janeshia Adam-Ginsyard, who also serves as the stunt double for Danai Gurira’s Okoye, spoke about the training that they went through.
“Our fight team and stunt teams and fight choreographers did a great job. The fight coordinator did an amazing job with the choreography and all the fight scenes that you see throughout the movie, not just with the Doras, but with the other characters. As far as the Doras and our training, we all came from different athletic backgrounds, you know. Stunts, clearly, but some of us were into Taekwondo and all these different things.
What we didn’t have was training in bo staff, so our training consisted of eight hours a day training in bo staff, because our weapons—for the Dora Milaje we use spears to fight, and when you see even in the trailer how those spears are twirling, they have to be precise when we’re attacking our enemies. That training was very important, because it helped us transition smoothly to film once we got on camera and had to do take after take after take.
So we had to get used to that because it’s our tool. We trained with our right hand and our non-dominant left hand, and we’re twirling it forwards and backwards; we learned different tricks. We had really intense training but I loved it, I loved it. It was great to pick up that skill, you start developing muscles that you didn’t know you had in your shoulders [laughs], and building up wrist strength. Yeah, it was cool!”
Sydelle Noel, who’s also seen as one of the female wrestlers on Netflix’s Glow, also spoke about her training experience, stating “It was physically demanding in another type of way. Glow was more using our own bodies and slamming ourselves and hair-pulling. This? …I have to say I was a ninja.” In working on set with Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker, she says “I was in a dream.” (withanaccent.com)
To be part of this film and as a member of the Dora Milage is a special feeling for the women chosen. “It makes me very happy and proud because they had to look and find these people to play these women. They took the time to train us and help us become these characters, but on the other hand, I’m lucky one of the people that they chose. There are a lot of good people out there that could have also been in the movie. I’m just very grateful. If you get the chance to play this, it’s going to be very special. I’m happy that young kids are going to see women like us. “Oh wow. They are dark-skinned and have no hair and they are so strong!” This is just nice,” says Florence Kasumba.
“This movie represents black women in all their glory; not hypersexualized…in this movie we are intelligent, strong and impassioned, and lovers and protectors of our nation and protectors of our king and champions of our men.That is my favorite part about this movie. This movie doesn’t reduce the black woman to one thing or whatever stereotype would fit that specific story, this movie presents the black woman as she is— complicated.” says Marija Abney to StyleCaster.com.
When discussing the influences she had for outfits worn by the Dora Milaje, here’s what costume designer Ruth E. Carter had to say,
“When you look at all the tribal work, and you see a lot of red, there’s a common color in African tribal cultures. Red, yellow, white is used quite a bit. We wanted to make sure that the colors themselves were reminiscent of tribal colors that we know. It’s really a primary red and really tomato-y orange. You see that. A lot of plaids in Mali. In some of the Masai tribes you see that a lot. You see the red painted skin you see in the Hemba tribe. You see a lot of the clay work. In the Dora Milaje in the comic strips they are red. That’s pretty much their color. We wanted to stay with that, number one.
Number two is they have a tabard that they wear across the front of their costume. For a very long time I could not figure out why the tabard, why the tabard. It was approved, and I kept wanting to get rid of it, but it just wouldn’t go away. I said, “This tabard that’s kind of a harness.” I call it a harness now. At the beginning I called it a tabard. “It needs to mean something.” If they all wear this tabard, and it doesn’t hold a sword, it doesn’t hold a gun. It doesn’t do anything but kind of stay there in the front. It has to have a meaning, so I beaded it. I put little charms on it for protection because that to me also felt like it was a part of the African culture to have your little talisman on things for protection and good luck and good spirit. There’s three places on the tabard where they wear a little shield, a little amethyst stone and I think it’s a piece of jade.
The rest of it is beaded I wanted the beading to look very earthy, very earthen, and feel like something that could be handed down. You could take your harness and give it to your daughter when she became a Dora Milaje, and you could wear her tabard. I felt like it was one of those kinds of pieces. The rest of it’s tights and a leotard. What can I tell you? A beautiful design, but the harness and the tabard, that was a special piece of the Dora Milaje for me.”