There’s no denying that Okoye (played by Danai Gurira in the MCU) is a fan favorite. Leader of the Dora Milaje, her fierce loyalty to and unwavering protection of Wakanda and its king are her defining traits. She is so intense that it is hard to picture her as ever being anything other than the intimidating Captain of the Dora Milaje. But everyone starts somewhere. Ibi Zoboi shows us where that start is for Okoye in her novel Okoye to the People.
[Warning: My review of Okoye to the People contains some spoilers!]
Okoye’s first mission outside Wakanda
In Okoye to the People, she is a young Dora Milaje. She has only recently joined their ranks and is still very new to everything that entails. Then she receives a special assignment. She’s to accompany the king and her captain to New York City for a diplomatic tour.
This assignment represents a huge change for Okoye. She’ll be dressing in fancy clothes, attending glamorous parties, and hiding her true identity because the outside world knows nothing of what Wakanda is really like. They hide all of their technology out of fear of invasion. And while bodyguards are expected and accepted by other countries, the exact degree and nature of the Dora Milaje’s abilities are hidden.
Okoye has a very hard time with this. She doesn’t want to hide who she is and feels very out of place attempting to make small talk when she feels she should be guarding her king. Seeing Okoye’s obvious distress, both King T’Chaka and Captain Aneka tell Okoye to take some time for herself. Instead of relaxing as they intended, she goes to visit a small neighborhood in Brooklyn known as Brownsville.
A New York neighborhood in need
At the first party Okoye attends with King T’Chaka, she meets Lucinda Tate. Lucinda is a councilwoman for the area of Brooklyn known as Brownsville. Brownsville is in trouble. A drug is taking over the young people there, causing them to start fires and burn the neighborhood down around them.
Lucinda is trying hard to save the neighborhood and is opening a brand-new community center. She invites the Wakandans to come to the grand opening ceremony and after some lobbying from Okoye, they attend.
However, they are the only ones from outside of Brownsville that come to the ceremony. Ms. Tate is visibly upset by this but the citizens of Brownsville are even more so. They lash out at Lucinda and the Wakandans. Okoye and Captain Aneka hurry to get the king away from the angry crowd but as they leave Brownsville, Okoye can’t help but look back and wonder.
Growing suspicion and fears in Okoye to the People
As the diplomatic trip continues, Okoye can’t stop thinking about Brownsville and the kids that she saw there. She also distrusts Stella Adams, the leader of No Nation Left Behind (NNLB). NNLB is the organization that invited King T’Chaka to New York City and has been entertaining him all week. They claim to be a charity that wants to help poor countries advance and become more like America, but Okoye senses something off with No Nation Left Behind.
Her restlessness and nagging intuition keep bringing her back to Brownsville. The more she visits, the more she’s convinced that Wakanda should help the people of this forgotten neighborhood. But King T’Chaka and Captain Aneka disagree and order Okoye to stop going to Brownsville and concentrate on the reason they have come to New York.
In spite of her captain’s and king’s warnings, Okoye just can’t stay away from Brownsville or shake her suspicions about Stella Adams and NNLB. Then she begins to see that maybe they are connected somehow and Okoye becomes even more convinced that she should do something, maybe even if it means disobeying her king.
A (slightly) different side of Okoye
Okoye is one of the most serious characters in the Marvel world. She has a job and she is dedicated to it like no other. That kind of deep character trait is always going to be present, so young Okoye is still a very serious person, but she’s also a young girl.
She is a little less dedicated and a little more likely to joke around. Especially with her best friend, Ayo. The situation with Brownsville and NNLB really tests her loyalty. She wants to help them so badly but she also swore an oath to obey her king. It creates really a fierce battle inside Okoye about right and wrong and who gets to decide which is which.
Okoye also has that all-in, chip on her shoulder that teenagers have. She resents having to dress differently and act casually around strangers during her first trip outside of Wakanda. Okoye sees it as a betrayal to herself and her country if she isn’t 100% on and recognized at all times.
I read this as a need for outside validation. We all share this need but teenagers really tend to depend on validation from others to build their identity, and that’s how I saw Okoye. If other people didn’t know she was Dora Milaje then was she still truly part of that amazing group? By the end of the book, she begins to see that she is always Dora Milaje and always Wakandan regardless of what others think. It is something that is carried inside not out.
A different type of Marvel story
Okoye to the People is a different kind of Marvel tale. Instead of telling a story of people with superpowers fighting enemies with more superpowers, Ibi Zoboi tells a tale of ordinary people fighting against ordinary enemies. The only superpowers the enemy has is money and influence. Don’t misunderstand, those are powerful tools and they are being used very effectively in Zoboi’s story, they just aren’t Marvel’s usual fare.
Okoye and Captain Aneka do get to use their fighting abilities a little bit and the Black Panther has a cameo role, but the real superpower that Okoye uses is leadership. She shows the young people of Brownsville how to group together and lead demonstrations that fight back.
In some ways, this is very inspiring because, for the average person who might be facing similar problems, this is a lesson they can actually use. No one is going to suddenly have the powers of Thor or become Hulk, but anyone can organize a protest or start a grass-roots campaign to make changes in their neighborhood or town. Zoboi shows how ordinary people can become heroes, even in the world of Marvel.
A slow start but a solid finish for Okoye to the People
Okoye is younger but she is still a little stiff and formal. This causes the beginning of the book to drag on a little. As she becomes more impassioned about Brownsville and NNLB her emotions begin to come through and the story flows better. Despite the slow start, it is an interesting look at a fan favorite who is often overlooked by the larger stories she’s involved in.
I liked seeing her find her footing as a warrior. Watching her learn how to balance thinking for herself with following orders was highly relatable. And seeing her have the strength to fight for what she believed in, even in the face of her king, was wonderful. Anyone who likes Okoye or the Dora Milaje will love Ibi Zoboi’s take on young Okoye.
My Rating: 8/10
Okoye to the People by Ibi Zoboi is available now. Do you plan on reading it? Let us know over on Twitter. And if you’re excited like we are for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and want to prepare for the film with a bit of comic reading, check out Vin’s reading guide!
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