This story contains spoilers for “Black Panther.”
Growing up, I loved comics and read plenty of them – but I didn’t learn about Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister in Marvel’s Black Panther series, until adulthood. Although the Black Panther emerged in 1966, Shuri’s storyline wasn’t developed until 2005.
I first came across Shuri in the 2010 animated TV series “Black Panther.” Produced by Reginald Hudlin, the show aired on BET, and actress Kerry Washington voiced the character of Shuri, a 16-year-old African princess. A tech genius, Shuri had a rebellious spirit in the show, and she often challenged her older brother. Over time, I fell in love with the character, and I tried to learn as much as I could about her role in the Black Panther universe. I only wish I had discovered her sooner.
With the popularity of the “Black Panther” film, it’s clear that Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, will have a lasting effect on young black girls. They might feel more inclined to pursue STEM fields after seeing someone who looks like them develop a suit that absorbs kinetic energy or heal a dying man with innovative technologies. If I had seen Shuri in this film as a child, I would have wanted to join a coding class right away and develop my own technology group.
With all of the buzz surrounding this motion picture, one thing is certain: Shuri has left an indelible print on our hearts. There’s no better time to dive into Shuri’s history.
Shuri is the teen daughter of King T’Chaka and Queen Ramonda and T’Challa’s younger half-sister. (T’Chaka was previously married to N’Yambi, who died while giving birth to T’Challa, the future king of Wakanda.)
In the Black Panther comics, Shuri makes her first appearance in Vol. 4, Issue No. 2 (2005), written by Reginald Hudlin and illustrated by John Romita Jr. The issue begins with an ancient tribal tradition of a tournament, in which the Black Panther mantle is up for grabs. Anyone can compete for the throne. Shuri is supposed to be locked away in her room, but the ambitious yet stubborn teenager disobeys the commands given to her.
Shuri approaches the ring, prepared to battle her older brother. But T’Challa is already fending off another opponent. With impeccable timing, T’Challa defeats his challenger before Shuri has a chance to step into the ring. T’Challa receives the Black Panther necklace, which is a symbol of his ascension to the throne. As Shuri watches her brother fighting instead of her, her eyes well up with tears. It is clear that the precocious Shuri has desires that go far beyond being a tech geek. She’s interested in a different kind of leadership for her people.
However, in Black Panther Vol. 5, Issue No. 1 (2009), Shuri gets what she wants.
T’Challa becomes incapacitated by Namor’s henchmen after he refused Namor’s offer to join his team of supervillains as a council member. At the time, Ororo Munroe (Storm) is the Queen of Wakanda and wife to King T’Challa. With her husband injured, Storm nominates Shuri as T’Challa’s successor. Before Shuri can become the Black Panther, she must face the Panther God, a deity who provides power to whoever accepts the mantle. The Panther God initially rejects Shuri due to her arrogance and envy of her brother. This was a lesson used to humble the anxious and super ambitious Shuri.
Shuri ends up taking on the Black Panther’s identity anyway, becoming the Queen of Wakanda. Without powers from the Panther God, it was a risky move. She rescues her comatose brother. After she shows self-sacrifice and humility, the Panther God grants Shuri supernatural powers. In the comics, T’Challa inevitably returns as the Black Panther and Shuri leads the Wakanda Design Group, which is the role she fulfills in the film.
As Shuri, Letitia Wright – best known for her compelling performance in the “Black Museum” episode of Netflix’s “Black Mirror” – is the breakout star of the action-packed, record-breaking cinematic wonder, “Black Panther.”
According to “Black Panther” executive producer Nate Moore, Shuri is the smartest person in the world, surpassing Tony Stark (Iron Man), and she plays a prominent role in the movie. As the brains behind the Wakanda Design Group, Shuri is the architect of Wakanda’s technology, including communication devices and the armor for Black Panther and his all-female army, the Dora Milaje.
She aides T’Challa during his mission in Busan, South Korea, where he’s tracking down Ulysses Klaue, the man responsible for smuggling vibranium – Wakanda’s most expensive and powerful natural resource – out of the country. She’s also a fighter and has the skill and know-how to develop advanced weapons used to defeat foes. Shuri created strike gauntlets, which she uses to defend herself against Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). She also provided Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) with sophisticated ring blades that project kinetic energy.
Shuri also seems to be fascinated with American culture. Wakanda is an isolationist country, and it does not trade with other nations. Yet Shuri knows certain aspects of social media colloquialisms, like the moment when she looks at her brother’s shoes and asks, “What are thoooose?” in reference to a popular video on Vine that instantly became a meme. (A kid clowning on a police officer’s shoes asks, “Officer, I have one question. What are thoooose?”)
In another scene, Shuri makes her first trip to California with T’Challa, and when she ends up at an Oakland basketball court, she questions why he didn’t take her to Coachella or Disneyland instead.
In the comics, Shuri is a diplomat and soldier who eventually becomes the Queen of Wakanda. In the film, Shuri is a scientist and engineer who leads the Wakanda Design Group. “Black Panther” adds an extra layer of depth to this important character in the Marvel universe, and her presence in the film is an inspiration to so many. Now more than ever, women of color – and black women in particular – need to see themselves reflected onscreen as leaders, entrepreneurs and skilled tech-savvy engineers. In addition to Shuri, “Black Panther” has also given representation for black women to see themselves as skilled combatants and spies.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Wright said the film “can spark the brain of another kid that loves technology and loves science.” “Black Panther” lets kids see that STEM is cool, and encourages them “to create the next gadget that’s going to help cure a disease or something,” the actress said.
It’s true: Shuri’s character is already leaving a profound impression on young kids everywhere. Already, children are cosplaying as the character, and kids are excited about seeing Shuri as a Marvel action figure. Hasbro has a box with an image of a young black girl wearing Shuri’s strike gauntlet. This is the first time I’ve seen an action toy marketed to this specific demographic.
Adults love her too. I have my own collection of Shuri action figures on my desk at work. Her stoic appearance provides the kind of confidence that every little girl needs. For years, the world told many young girls that they didn’t belong or matter by omitting positive representations of them in pop culture.
Now, Shuri is here to tell us that we do matter. Our voices and our skills do have value – and we can be the smartest people in the world, too.