One of the most powerful scenes in Black Panther isn't an action sequence. It's a conversation about a wig.
Without giving too much away — the Marvel movie blasted into theaters last week — we can say that it's a scene where T'Challa a.k.a. the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is on a mission with two of his most trusted women. There's Nakia (Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o), a spy for the throne, and Okoye (Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead). The latter is the general who leads Wakanda's all-female secret service known as the Dora Milaje.
Dressed to the nines in disguise, all three try to blend in, but Okoye can't help but complain to T'Challa and Nakia about the wig she has to wear. This may not sound like much of a revolution, but during the scene, Okoye quickly establishes that she's a proud African woman who doesn't have time for European standards of beauty. It's subtle but also powerful.
When asked about the scene, Gurira, 40, can't help but smile.
"I love that moment," Gurira tells ESSENCE at a recent press junket in Beverly Hills, Calif. "You see the differences between Nakia and Okoye. They’re interestingly different women. It’s a diverse and complex representation.
"I love that and we need that," she adds. "The wig line was in the script from the very beginning and I love Ryan [Coogler] for writing that. I didn’t pick the wig. I thought it looked good but she doesn’t care about that. She’s like, ‘What is this? I don’t wear wigs. I wear my bald glory.'"
Gurira says the scene is brief but for Black women and girls watching, it affirms a self-love we all need to learn over time.
"It’s such an Eastern standard of beauty versus a Western standard and such an African thing to say," says Gurira, who was born in Iowa and raised in Zimbabwe. "It’s a subverted standard of beauty. I’m sure people have to pick up on that. That’s the first thing I thought. It so subverts the idea of feminine beauty."
"That’s what I love about the Dora Milaje," Gurira says. "Their outfits are very structured but beautiful. Feminine but not revealing. The red lip, the lashes, you know? The bald heads, the tattoos and they’re going to kick your butt.
"The ferocity is not compromised for femininity. They’re both allowed to coexist and we don’t see that enough and we don’t know that enough societally as little girls growing up. You can be both. You can combine those two things and how fun is that?"
For a flawless beauty with close-cropped hair like Gurira, there is also a very deliberate and needed celebration of all things Afrocentric in Black Panther and its fictional African country, Wakanda.
"Wherever you’re growing up as a Black girl, it takes a while to love your natural self," Gurira says. "You have to go through that phase of recognition like, ‘Wait a minute. This is bullshit.’ You’re initially told something else. It’s images and they’re everywhere including Africa. You have to get to your own sense of consciousness about it. And I think all Black girls go through that."