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Ryan Coogler Breaks Down Nakia and Okoye’s Distinct Fighting Styles in Black Panther

Tradition versus innovation

In this “Notes on a Scene” video from Vanity Fair, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler breaks down the movie’s South Korean casino fight scene. As he walks through the scene, Coogler explains his use of color, the character-driven contrast between Nakia and Okoye’s fighting styles, and how he designed the shots for maximum impact. “This scene was shot very early in our shooting schedule,” he says. “You know, it was something that we kinda bookmarked and said, ‘Look, if we can get this right, it’ll set the tone for the rest of the film.'”

In addition to creating a great action scene, Coogler also wanted the fight to reflect the themes of the movie and motivations of the characters. “A big theme in this [film] is tradition versus innovation,” Coogler explains in the video. “So we broke the characters down. Okoye is a traditionalist, so she fights with a traditional weapon: the African spear, always made out of vibranium. And she fights in a very traditional style. It almost looks like dancing, the way she fights.”

Okoye’s traditionalism is established before the fight even begins, so that her character moment can build. As part of her disguise in South Korea, Okoye has to wear a wig, and she hates it. “This is a moment that’s been in the script since the first draft: this idea of Okoye, a traditionalist Wakandan, just being tired of this wig,” Coogler says. “She makes comments to Nakia that she doesn’t want to have it on in the first place. So as soon as the fight jumps off, she finds a way to take it off, so she ends up throwing it in this guy’s face.”

While Okoye fights like the traditionalist she is, Nakia fights like an innovator. “Nakia fights completely different from how Okoye fights,” Coogler explains. “We really wanted to differentiate that. So we talked about, again, tradition versus innovation. Lupita’s character Nakia is an innovator. What we wanted to do is give her a very innovative fighting style. You know, she’ll use any weapon, anything that she can get her hands on. She fights dirty, she fights aggressive. She’s a spy who had to learn to make due with what she had.” Coogler then walks through the ways that Nakia uses a craps table, her high heel, and a gun all in the same scene to defeat her opponents. Okoye, on the other hand, never uses a gun throughout the film: “Guns. So primitive.”

The purportedly supporting characters in Black Panther, including Nakia and Okoye, have become a huge part of the fan response to the film. Even over on the TMS Twitter account, while T’Challa and Killmonger get plenty of love, there’s no shortage of people whose favorite character is Shuri, Okoye, M’Baku, or Nakia. After getting this glimpse into Coogler’s and the cast’s thoughtfulness about those characters, and how their motivations and principles inspired so many of the movie’s moments and choices, it’s easy to see how Black Panther ended up with such a believable, relatable, and likable ensemble. When characters’ actions are driven by who they are, rather than what the plot needs them to do, audiences respond.

(Featured image: screengrab)

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