Marvel’s most dedicated fans already know her, but more casual viewers might be scratching their heads as to why a certain famous actress shows up in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. If you’re confused by the latest addition to the MCU, here’s what you need to know.
Warning: Spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ahead.
Who is Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in Marvel?
If you’re wondering why Elaine Benes is in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — let alone with a funky purple streak in her hair — here’s what you need to know.
In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Seinfeld and Veep alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus makes a surprise appearance as her recurring character of Valentina (known as “The Contessa” in the comics). Her full name is Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, but you can just call her “Val.”
More than just a cameo, Valentina plays a meaty role in Wakanda Forever. It’s a shocking one simply because Louis-Dreyfus was never announced for the movie, and somehow managed to appear on set — for multiple scenes — without it leaking on the internet. It might be surprising, but that’s just how someone like Valentina likes it.
In comics, Valentina made her first appearance in Jim Steranko’s iconic comic book series Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. A capable agent in her own right, she existed mainly as a love interest for Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson in the films, soon to return in the Disney+ series Secret Invasion). But she had her own share of intrigue.
Some pub trivia for you: The two participate in one of the most memorable lovemaking scenes ever in comics history, as a one-page spread in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #2.
While Valentina hasn’t had a major role in Marvel’s comics since Steranko’s Nick Fury comics, her origins were revealed in the 2009 series Secret Warriors as the child of Russian sleeper agents for the terrorist group Leviathan. (It’s also hinted her name is a cover identity, and her true identity remains unknown even now.) Secret Warriors complicated Val’s allegiances, with her double agent status — and brief history as “Madame Hydra” — ensuring she’s not someone the Avengers can totally trust.
Valentina Allegra de Fontaine in the MCU
The MCU introduced Valentina last year, in the 2021 Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (in the episode “Truth”). After John Walker (Wyatt Russell) is discharged as the new Captain America, Valentina approaches him from out of nowhere with an offer he simply couldn’t refuse. By the end of the series, Valentina helps John become his own superhero, the black-clad U.S. Agent.
Valentina’s second appearance in the MCU came in the post-credits scene of Black Widow where she approaches Yelena (Florence Pugh) with an assignment to murder Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Yelena attempts to carry out her mission in the Disney+ series Hawkeye but is stopped by Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld).
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever marks Louis-Dreyfus’ third appearance as Valentina. This time, she continues serving her still unknown, still unseen superiors by working with CIA agent (and, as we find out, ex-husband) Everett Ross, played again by Martin Freeman. Chillingly, Valentina helps broker a meeting with Ross and the U.S. government to try to destabilize Wakanda, though Everett insists that it wouldn’t be a good idea.
Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and the Thunderbolts
Just when you think you’ve seen enough of “The Contessa,” think again. Earlier this year, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was announced to return in the new Marvel movie Thunderbolts, which is due in theaters in summer 2024. The movie will round up both John Walker and Yelena — as well as other anti-heroes from the MCU — as they take on dangerous assignments to save the world.
While Val disappears from Wakanda Forever before any more of her schemes are revealed, the film nevertheless ensures she always has the bigger picture in mind. How the events of Wakanda Forever will factor into Thunderbolts is yet to be determined. But at least one member of the Thunderbolts, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) has deep ties with Wakanda. This will only make Valentina’s leadership over them all the more dramatic should Bucky find out how Valentina nearly destabilized the kingdom that healed him.
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe turns a corner into Phase Five (and Phase Six set to climax with Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars), Valentina will only play an even more crucial role in years to come. While she is expected for Thunderbolts, Valentina could show up at any point, anywhere else, when we least expect it. That’s just how she operates.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is out now in theaters.