Why Black Panther has the MCU's best romance

Romance has always been a big part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whether these relationships play larger roles in a hero's narrative – Iron Man's Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. and Pepper Potts' (Gwyneth Paltrow) relationship has managed to stand many of life's hurdles — or are more subtle and minor, romance in the MCU is alive and well. 

While they're never a primary focus in Marvel movies — and are admittedly often some of the films' weaker components — romantic relationships are often used to develop the MCU's characters as people, which allows for more depth. Such is the case with Black Panther: Under all the set pieces and generational vendettas, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Nakia's (Lupita Nyong'o) characters drive the narrative — and with a deeply mature relationship, the ability to treat each other like equals and their enchanting chemistry, they make each other better as individuals. Here's why Black Panther has the best romance in the MCU.

They have independent goals

One of the things that makes T'Challa and Nakia such a power couple is that Black Panther is set up to give them independent goals. They eventually end up overlapping, but Nakia and T'Challa are seeking very different things as the story begins. 

When we meet Nakia, she's intent on being a spy and helping others, both in the field and within the Wakandan political sphere, and she's certain that Wakanda can provide resources to the world while protecting its own interests. On the flip side, T'Challa's goals are defined by his recent ascension to the throne — he's focused on being a good king and trying his best to preserve the traditions of Wakanda, all while keeping in mind that some things must also change if they are to move forward. Although there's a certain amount of conflict inherent in T'Challa and Nakia's diverging points of view, they're both passionate about their beliefs without losing respect for what the other wants. Nakia and T'Challa are supportive of one another, no matter what.

Nakia is a hero in her own right

Beyond simply being worked into the movie as the future queen of Wakanda, Nakia is also a Wakandan spy. She's risking her life to help people who cannot help themselves and seeking to support the surrounding African nations in a far more literal sense. Nakia is the beating heart of Black Panther — she deeply cares about others and their suffering. She also doesn't need to wait for T'Challa to come in and rescue her. She's perfectly capable of doing that herself. As a warrior, she's versatile and showcases physical strength, as well as exemplary use of weaponry. Nakia is also full of grace, emotional strength, wisdom and mercy. T'Challa treats her as an equal, never condescending to her or suggesting she's incapable of anything. Without her, he wouldn't be alive — he trusts her, and doesn't treat her as someone who needs to be protected and hidden away. Female characters in the MCU rarely have the agency afforded to Nakia, and Black Panther is all the better for what she provides.     

Nakia's worldview informs T'Challa's eventual decision

As king of Wakanda, T'Challa has a lot of responsibility and must make a lot of tough decisions. It's a heavy burden to carry, and he often needs advice and support from others. It might have taken T'Challa's encounter with Killmonger to finally see it, but Nakia's worldview (much more peaceful than that of the film's antagonist) helps to inform T'Challa's eventual decision to reintroduce Wakanda to the world as a resource and world power. Her diplomacy and ideas fuel T'Challa's actions, which lead to the opening of the center in Oakland, California. He takes to heart that Wakanda can continue to prosper in a healthy and productive way through the opening of its borders. Nakia's support and vision helps center T'Challa — and also restores his confidence as a leader to Wakanda following the realization of his father's wrongdoings. Together, Nakia and T'Challa are the ideal co-leaders — they balance each other out in the best ways.

Intense chemistry

"Don't freeze," everyone says to T'Challa. Whenever he sees Nakia, however, he's unable to help himself. Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong'o have fantastic chemistry. There's no one else in Wakanda or anywhere in the world who can make T'Challa freeze — in admiration, in awe — the way he does when he sees Nakia. It's like watching something click into place — he gazes at her with his heart in his eyes from the moment of their first onscreen meeting. Nyong'o's Nakia, in turn, is able to be soft while in the presence of his attentive gaze. It isn't one-sided, though, as Nakia's affection for T'Challa is just as ever-present, but more low key. They're both flirty, while also being gentle and reverent toward one another. It's present in their body language and eye contact. There's an electricity between them whenever they're onscreen together, and an intensity in their interactions that makes their romance uniquely believable in the MCU.

Immensely loyal to each other

There's a lot that goes down in Black Panther, from the physical action to the layered plot, but no matter what happens, T'Challa and Nakia remain loyal to one another. When T'Challa is eventually beaten by Killmonger, it's Nakia who sees to the safety and security of Shuri and the queen. Despite no longer being a couple, Nakia ensuring T'Challa's family remain alive is one of her top priorities. She knows how much they mean to him. Unlike many others who were quick to follow Killmonger after his ascension to the throne, Nakia remained loyal to T'Challa. Likewise, T'Challa, knowing that Nakia wanted to help communities through other means besides spy work, creates a center she can oversee and can channel her compassion on a larger scale. He remained loyal to her dream and invested in it. And after everything they went through, Nakia and T'Challa, no matter how long they'd been apart, only had eyes for each other.

T'Challa is vulnerable with Nakia

Vulnerability in romantic relationships has rarely been depicted onscreen in the MCU. There have been the rare occasions when the leading male character has opened up to his significant other or potential significant other, but T'Challa is far more open emotionally than many of the other male characters in the shared universe. Nakia is the only one T'Challa confides in when he admits what his father did to his uncle — and, by extension, to Killmonger. Given the fact that T'Challa looked up to his father and wanted to follow in his footsteps, it probably wasn't easy for him to admit that T'Chaka had done wrong and lied about it. Talking about one's feelings has rarely been a strong suit for superhero males, but Boseman's T'Challa is an open book to Nakia. She's someone he knows he can trust, someone who won't judge him for his father's mistakes and choices. It's a beautiful moment, and it says a lot about the depth of their romance and how much he relies on her emotional support.

They put the protection of their country above their own needs

T'Challa and Nakia had independent goals throughout Black Panther, bu† their goals ultimately lead them to put the protection of Wakanda above their own needs. One of the reasons Nakia is reluctant to rekindle her romance with T'Challa is because she feels her mission as a spy is more important. She wants to help people more directly than her role as queen would allow. In mourning, Nakia risked going to the Jabari tribe to ask M'Baku for help and even offered him the Black Panther's powers because she believed that was better than watching Wakanda suffer at the hands of Killmonger. While T'Challa felt some sympathy for Killmonger and struggled with what his father did, he didn't hesitate to try and have Killmonger arrested for his crimes. It's poetic that T'Challa and Nakia can find a way to be together — and at the same time ensure Wakanda is protected from those wishing it harm. 

They break stereotypes

It's important to note that T'Challa and Nakia are the first black couple to appear in the MCU. The fact that they're portrayed as fully fledged characters instead of caricatures means a lot for representation in the superhero genre. Beyond that, T'Challa and Nakia both break racial, gender and superhero stereotypes. Nakia isn't just the "strong black woman." She's physically strong, yes, but that isn't the only way to be strong. A dark-skinned black woman gets to be soft, vulnerable, opinionated, and fierce all at once. This is a rarity in film. Nakia gets to show emotion and isn't treated lesser for it or brought down. Nakia is also deeply loved, trusted, and has agency. She isn't simply there to be someone T'Challa falls in love with or sidelined as the best friend; she's at the heart of the story. Likewise, T'Challa is a leader, but he's soft-spoken and isn't afraid to show emotion. He's deeply sympathetic and confident in his masculinity without needing to engage in toxic behavior. He's smart enough to take the advice of the women in his life and isn't threatened by their power. T'Challa and Nakia have the best romance in the MCU — and they're both the type of hero Marvel needs more of.