Even before I watched and fell in love with Black Panther, I told myself that I wouldn't write about it.
My intentions were to enjoy the film in a room full of other Black people at a Magic Johnson theater, perhaps, get a fish sandwich afterwards in jubilee, and forgo the urge to write about it through a critical lens. "Let everyone else engage in verbal Mortal Kombat over the politics of a fictitious character named Killmonger and/or wrestle with the question 'Can the revolution be sponsored by Disney?'" was my set mood.
Unfortunately, one part of my identity has been crawling up and down my neck while singing "Pick up the phone, baby (oooooh)/I know your home, baby (ooooooh)/It's lit!" and now I am breaking my promises-promises.
The decision is rooted in reaction to reports that a deleted scene featuring Danai Gurira's Okoye and Florence Kasumba's Ayo engaging in flirtation is yet another sign of queer erasure.
Back in April, Vanity Fair‘s Joanna Robinson saw the early scene and offered this description:
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.’
Yes, I now want to play "Formation," too, but focus for now. Robinson went on to write that the exchange “leans into” to the storyline of World of Wakanda, which features queer characters Ayo and Aneka. However, Aneka is not featured in Black Panther.
In an interview with ScreenCrush, Black Panther co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole was asked about the scene, confirming both that it was originally written this way and that there was intention to include the World of Wakanda queer love story into the film.
However, as the interviewer notes, Cole's "explanation for the change got a bit muddled from there":
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. We didn’t like, pull out a full thread of some theme. But your friend quite possibly could be right, or I’m maybe having a brain fart here and just can’t remember.
For some, word of the scene being cut has raised questions as to what was the motivation behind its removal from the final version of Black Panther. Across social media, I noticed that some queer people were bothered by the exclusion while others were bothered that they were so bothered. As one friend tweeted, "Stop begging people to include you in their art. Create your own shit. Tell your own stories." Others raised the question as to whether or not the likes of Ryan Coolger, a straight man, could even properly capture a queer character — arguing representation on a surface level is not as helpful as it may seem.
I think such critiques have some level of validity to them (though there are also ways to push back on each position), however, I've since learned that this is not the first time a Marvel film has done this. Indeed, Valkryie’s bisexuality was cut from Thor: Ragnarok. So, this is not a new issue for Marvel, which better explains why some take issue.
In, "Marvel Misses Another Easy Opportunity for LGBTQ Representation With Black Panther," Charles Pulliam-Moore writes: "A romance between Okoye and Ayo is the sort of thing that easily could have been included in Black Panther with something as simple as a longing look and a bit of flirting kiss, but it looks like we’re going to have to wait even longer for the MCU’s films to catch up with the times."
When I first learned of the cut, I felt rather ambivalent about it. I did not feel especially slighted about the exclusion. In fact, I saw the movie after the report, enjoyed it immensely in terms of both how the story was told and the significance of a Black-led superhero movie performing so well at the box office. I was happy to see Black people winning.
However, as someone with a dual identity, even if I personally was not so bothered by the exclusion, I agree that it would have been nice even if for a moment, we watched queer representation from two Black women. Even if the film itself was not about that, is it not being lauded for its offering a view of Blackness and Black people we never see in film? Are people not so emotionally attached to the film because of what that signifies them? With that in mind, for Black people who also happened to be LGBTQ, if they feel like it would have been nice to see that one scene, is that slight disappointment not as valid as the joy others have for feeling like they seem themselves?
Again, I love the movie and cannot wait to see it again and again and again. Even so, while this omission does not taint the film for me, it remains an omission nonetheless. True enough, there was only so much that could be crammed into one film, but evidently, there are still some voids left to be filled. In future incarnations, hopefully Marvel will use the world of Wakanda to further fill them. After all, Black Panther's success is a testament to what happens when you finally stop ignoring folks who have always been around, waiting to see themselves depicted on the big screen as all the others.
With that in mind, yeah, gon’ ahead and give us a Cleo Cat in the sequel, Coogler.