STEM Princess Shuri Is the Real Superhero of 'Black Panther'

Letitia Wright as Shuri in  Black Panther  (Marvel Studios)

Letitia Wright as Shuri in Black Panther (Marvel Studios)

Speed, strength, and saintly character aren’t the only superpowers portrayed in Black Panther, the latest addition to Marvel’s cinematic universe. And the film’s dazzling Afrocentrism, strong female characters, and record-setting opening weekend aren’t its only groundbreaking attributes. Alongside the supernatural mysticism typically on display in comic-book movies, Black Panther champions the power of science and technology. But unlike previous Marvel installments in which white men like Iron Man's Tony Stark, The Hulk's Bruce Banner, and Fantastic Four's Reed Richards get to be the geniuses, this time the chief scientific protagonist is a 16-year-old African girl.

Writing in Salon, Clifford Johnson — a USC professor of physics and astronomy and author of The Dialogues, an awesome comic-book exploration of science and the universe — highlights the role of science in the movie’s source material about T’Challa, the king and protector of the fictional African nation (and secretly scientifically advanced) Wakanda. “T’Challa himself is portrayed as an extraordinary ‘genius’ in physics and other scientific fields,” writes Prof. Johnson.

Shuri and T'Challa

But while the movie depicts T’Challa as plenty smart and wise, the real scientific “genius” is Shuri, his younger sister. Played by Letitia Wright, Shuri is cool and confident in her abilities yet irrepressibly childlike and stoked to be surrounded by the greatest toys ever (which, not incidentally, she designed and built herself). In her sleek and fantastical lab, she tinkers and experiments, saves lives, and unveils her newest projects for her brother like Q showing 007 the latest pocket laser.

She even races a virtual remote-controlled car! This is the kind of Disney princess we can get behind.

Shuri shows her need for speed.

Shuri shows her need for speed.

The significance of this kind of representation has not gone unnoticed. Tennis goddess Serena Williams hosted a private screening of the movie for a group of girls from Black Girls Code. Refinery29 hailed Shuri as “the Gadget Genius We’ve Been Waiting For.” And Wright herself told HuffPost that she hopes Shuri will inspire more girls to take an interest in STEM at a time when women of color are a vanishing percentage of the STEM workforce — less than 10% in 2015, according to the National Science Foundation.

“Just seeing that there’s young kids in Shuri’s lab, teenagers and people coming together to create technology. That’s beautiful,” Wright said.

To that, we say: Wakanda — and Shuri — forever!

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