“Black Panther” actor Florence Kasumba has confirmed that she filmed a scene in which her character, Ayo — head of security for King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) — flirted with a female general (Danai Gurira). “If the makers would have wanted everyone to see the scene, it would have been in the movie,” Kasumba told Vulture, noting that additional scenes also did not make the final product, now in theaters. “What their reason is, I can’t tell you, because nobody told me about whether [that scene is] in or not.”
In April, Vanity Fair‘s Joanna Robinson wrote about viewing a rough cut of the Ryan Coogler-directed epic, which featured a moment where “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.'”
Marvel comics by both Ta-Nehisi Coates (“Black Panther”) and Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey (“World of Wakanda”) have included a queer storyline for Ayo. “It was particularly thrilling to be able to write black queer women into the Marvel universe,” Gay told The Advocate. “I’m proud of the work I did and love hearing from black queer women about what the comics mean to them.”
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Gay said it is “disappointing” that the storyline did not translate to the onscreen blockbuster-to-be: “Even when great progress is made, some marginalized groups are told to wait, are told, not yet, are told, let’s do this first and then we will get to you. And we are also told we’re asking too much, that we should be grateful for what progress is being made. But I don’t buy into that. It would have been incredible and so gratifying to see a queer black woman in what will likely be the biggest movie of the year. Alas, not yet.”
No film from the studio has ever included a gay relationship. Tessa Thompson, a star of the previous Marvel film, “Thor: Ragnarock,” said in a Rolling Stone interview that she lobbied director Taika Waititi to make her character, Valkyrie, bisexual (she has a relationship with a female anthropologist in the comic books). Waititi shot a scene where a woman exits Valkyrie’s bedroom, but it too was ultimately cut, and her bisexuality is not explicitly addressed.
Shortly after Robinson’s story went live, Marvel told Vanity Fair that Ayo and Okoye do not have an onscreen romance, and “World of Wakanda” was not mined for source material. In the film, Okoye is actually dating Daniel Kaluuya’s character, W’Kabi.
Earlier this month, Joe Robert Cole — who wrote the “Black Panther” film with Coogler — told Screen Crush that he did not remember the specific scene in question, and a queer love story “wasn’t some major theme … we were looking to explore.” However, Cole said that “there were quite a few conversations around different things, different directions with different characters,” so that the “short answer is yes” as to whether there was ever any intention to delve into a relationship between two women.
For her part, Kasumba believes Marvel made the right decision not to go there at this time: “I personally think people have no idea who T’Challa is, who are the Wakandans, what is Wakanda, where is Wakanda, what is their culture. There are so many important things that had to be told in these two hours. So the focus was on what is so important for T’Challa. What happens after the last movie that we saw [‘Captain America: Civil War’].”
The reactions on Twitter this week have been mixed.
Marvel, just let the girls make eyes at each other!!! it’s the literal least you can do if no one’s gonna put major queer characters in big movie franchises!! https://t.co/03fyrLz24J
— A.B. (@AlannaBennett) February 12, 2018
Nobody was making this much noise when Marvel released its THIRD Thor movie but all of a sudden Black Panther isn’t diverse enough and Marvel missed its opportunity for queer representation. STFU.
— Toni Mac (@tonimacncheese) February 12, 2018
The character Ayo, portrayed in the film, is in a queer relationship with another side story character, Aneka. Thus, her queerness being brought up wouldn’t be unbelievable. They cut it cause of homophobic garbage like yourself. https://t.co/nrpcoD0DGR
— lil Bear Bear Bruxo (@lucciXamo) February 14, 2018