‘Black Panther’ Screenwriter Joe Robert Cole Addresses Rumors of a Deleted Gay Romance
Last year, Black Panther fans were thrilled to learn that the T’Challa’s solo movie may introduce Marvel’s first on-screen gay relationship, and first explicitly gay characters. It all started when an early scene from the movie was screened for critics, one that suggested the new Marvel film was taking inspiration from a queer love story featured in Ta’Nehisi Coates, Roxanne Gay, and Yona Harvey’s World of Wakanda comic. But Marvel quickly shot the possibility of the romance down, claiming the comic wasn’t used as a source for the film. Now we’ve caught up with the screenwriter of Black Panther to figure out what happened.
Back in April, Vanity Fair‘s Joanna Robinson saw the early scene, which featured a brief moment of flirtation between two women of the Dora Milaje, T’Challa’s team of devoted female warriors. Robinson described the scene, which featured Danai Gurira’s Okoye and Florence Kasumba’s Ayo, as such:
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.’
Robinson wrote that the exchange “leans into” to the storyline of World of Wakanda, which follows canonically queer characters Ayo and Aneka, the latter of which isn’t featured in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. Based on that description, it sure sounded like the two women could have a potential romance in the film. However, Marvel quickly denied any romantic plot between Gurira and Kasumba’s characters, and the scene in question never made it into the final film. So what happened? Were Ayo and Okoye originally written as gay and Marvel got cold feet? Was it all a big misunderstanding?
During a phone interview, I talked to Black Panther co-writer Joe Robert Cole about the deleted scene and how it suggested a gay relationship between Ayo and Okoye. When I asked him whether it was originally written that way or if there was ever any intention of including the World of Wakanda queer love story in the film, he said yes. And then his 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.
It sounds like the filmmakers played with the idea of gay characters, alongside other relationship dynamics, but we're still left with some questions. In the movie – minor SPOILER alert – there is no flirtation between any of the Dora Milaje. Instead, Okoye is depicted as straight and in a relationship with Daniel Kaluuya’s W’Kabi. (Curiously, their romance gets very little screentime even though it plays an important role during a crucial scene late in the film.)
It seems like we still don’t know the full story here. Regardless of what happened during the editing process, it’s a shame the studio didn’t use Black Panther as an opportunity to introduce even more diversity to the MCU. The film hits theaters on February 16.
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