In Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, and Yona Harvey’s most recent runs on Black Panther and World of Wakanda, Ayo and Aneka—two of the Dora Milaje—are lovers who play a pivotal role in the civil uprising that occurs at a time when Wakanda’s society is on the brink of collapse. Given the amount of screen time given to the squad of warrior women in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, one of the biggest questions about the film has been whether it would at all incorporate any elements of Ayo’s (Florence Kasumba) sexuality, or even the idea that queer women were a part of the Dora Milaje.
Months ago, Vanity Fair’s Joanne Robinson reported that there was a scene in the film featuring Ayo and Okoye (Danai Gurira) suggesting that the two might have been romantically involved, or at the very least attracted to each other.
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.’
During a recent interview with Screen Crush, Black Panther co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole confirmed that while the cut scene was, in fact, part of an earlier version of the film, it wasn’t planned to be a significant storyline:
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.
This isn’t the first time that Marvel Studios have missed a readily-available opportunity to finally bring some queer representation to the big screen, but it’s particularly odd given how right there and on the page this particular story is when you look to the comics.
Though Aneka is not Okoye, characters become remixed and reimagined all the time when they’re adapted for films. 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.