The women of Black Panther are, without a doubt, the most badass group of women ever introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, one could argue that Black Panther is the most feminist MCU installment yet, and it's not just because there's more than one woman in the entire film. There are many badass Black Panther moments that'll have women everywhere cheering, but there's one that sums up how the movie sees its female stars perfectly, and that's when Nakia takes off her heels mid-fight.
Minor spoilers ahead. Nakia, as played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o, is a War Dog spy for Wakanda. Unlike many of the people who live there, she's been beyond the Wakandan borders, seen the world, and participated in it in a major (yet invisible) way. She knows how to blend in, so it's no surprise that when she travels to South Korea with T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), she's way more comfortable in her tight dress and stiletto heels than Okoye. But, as anyone who has ever put on a pair of heels knows, it's one thing to be comfortable wearing them for a night out, it's another to actually do anything practical in them, like fight off paid mercenaries to get to Ulysses Klaue. Which is why every woman watching Black Panther gasped with joy when the first thing Nakia did when things went south in the casino was take off her spiky heels and use them as weapons.
The visual of Nakia taking off her heel to fight is stunning. For one thing, it confirms every woman's suspicion that a stiletto is actually a murder weapon. But, more importantly, it shows a woman using an accessory pushed onto her by a Western patriarchic idea of beauty against the men that would want her to wear them. For director Ryan Coogler, the move had two intentions. First, to show off Nakia's background as a spy. "She'll use any weapon, anything that she can get her hands on. She fights dirty," Coogler told Vanity Fair. "She fights aggressive. She's a spy who had to learn to make due with what she has." The second intention was to "turn the idea of femininity on its head" by using the heel, a symbol of femininity, as a weapon.
But the greatness of Nakia taking off her heels doesn't end there. Later in the sequence, Nakia gets behind the wheel to chase Klaue and his men — still barefoot. In fact, there is a pretty purposeful shot of her naked foot pressing down hard on the gas pedal as Okoye urges her on. If you are a woman who has attempted to drive in high heels, then you know it is nearly impossible, and yet in action movies, women in five-inch stilettos regularly get into cars and drive off (or even fight dinosaurs) without trouble. But not in Black Panther. In Nakia women finally get to see a female action hero that suffers from the same old human limitations as we do, and that means no driving in stilettos at the drop of a hat.
It's been said that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did but "backwards and in high heels," but even Rogers never had to take down two armed men, pursue a super villain and then drive in a high speed chase to get justice for her country. There are some actions that don't require stilettos, and it's just as well. Yes, it's cool to see badass women on screen fight in heels, but it's even better to see women do what many of us do in real life: say "screw it" and kick off painful, toe-pinching shoes to actually get stuff done.