With the record-breaking box office of "Avengers: Endgame" and the ground-breaking analysis found in the YouTube essay series "One Marvelous Scene", I thought another post regarding this trend was highly appropriate.
Since I wrote last week on the much-heralded Killmonger death scene from Black Panther, I wanted to take a look at another scene from the same film that didn’t get near as much attention, but also shows how characters with strong desires, even for the same thing, can come into conflict.
The scene involves Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), the Wakandan spy and love interest for T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), and Okoye (Dania Gurira), the leader of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s all-female troop of royal bodyguards.
Although this scene doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, it does involve two women discussing something vital to both of them: the safety of their country, and the potential threat that Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) poses by taking over the throne.
In Nakia’s case, she is fiercely loyal to T’Challa, who she believes is dead. She wants Okoye’s help in overthrowing Killmonger and returning the throne to T’Challa’s branch of the family.
As a warrior and a commander of an elite squad, Okoye values the chain of command and the traditions that support the ruling structure.
When Nakia suggests that they work together to overthrow Killmonger, Okoye answers:
“I am loyal to the throne, no matter who sits upon it.”
When Okoye questions Nakia’s loyalty, she answers that she loved T’Challa as a man and the country that he represented as its ruler.
“Then you serve your country,” Okoye tells her.
“No,” Nakia responds. “I save my country.”
Nakia then leaves and joins CIA Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) in an effort to escape the country with T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) before Okoye can send the Dora Milaje after them.
Not only is this one of the most underrated scenes in a stellar film, it’s also possibly the most underrated scene in the entire MCU. It’s not a matter of galaxy-wide consequences, but it carries deep personal meaning for both characters.
For Nakia, who values and respects Okoye as a warrior and a friend, the idea that Okoye would stay loyal to the man who killed the king, a man who only arrived in the country that same day and claimed the throne, rather than fight to avenge the king's murder, leaves her shocked to her core.
For Okoye, who values tradition above nearly everything else, even the man she loves, the idea that Nakia would want to overthrow the rightful king is anathema.
The scene also carries some strong parallels to another, more notable, fractured friendship in the MCU: the fight between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) in Captain America: Civil War.
In that film, Captain America fights for his values and his loyalty to his friend Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), even when those values conflict with the law. Iron Man fights to get Cap to comply with the Sokovia Accords, the law of the land, even when that law is unjust.
Both the Nakia/Okoye scene and the Cap/Iron Man scene ask serious questions of their audiences:
Can someone stay loyal to their friends, their beliefs, and their values, even as their country gets taken over by a megalomaniac bent on world destruction?
Or does someone stay loyal to their country in the spirit of patriotism and duty, even when they recognize that the new leader’s mission compromises all of the traditions that made their country great to begin with?
When a screenwriter (such as Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole here) can set up an intense conflict where both characters have strong beliefs, high stakes, and valid points for their arguments, that writer can create One (More) Marvelous Scene.
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