Geek Exclusive Letitia Wright

Geek Exclusive – Letitia Wright’s Shuri Loses Her Spark But Gains Strength In ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’

When Black Panther first hit the screens in 2018, it heralded a wave of interest in Afrofuturism, a literary and musical movement that explores black identity, culture and struggles through the lens of science fiction. 

While the first superhero film to win an Academy Award centred on fictional African nation Wakanda, a rich nation thanks to its hidden deposits of vibranium, as well as its mastery of technological and scientific advancements, it was grounded in Shuri, the crown princess of Wakanda who has no qualms about flipping the finger to her brother/King and strives to advance her nation through her amazing creations and foray into science and technology.

Wakanda self-piloting aircraft and cars that could be remotely operated through virtual reality, with high-definition holographic displays, as well as its magnetic levitation train systems. Those were borne from the brilliant mind of Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. Though her role wasn’t front and centre in the first movie, which grossed US$1.3 billion globally, audiences paid attention.

Shuri in the first Black Panther.

Wright’s Shuri birthed a phenomenon also known as ‘The Shuri Effect’. Where Indiana Jones inspired a generation of archaeologists, and Jurassic Park’s Dr. Alan Grant a generation of palaeontologists, Shuri inspired and bridged the gap for young black women in STEM as young black youths, especially females, finally had their larger-than-life science hero, who was also black scientist with incredible wit, impeccable fashion and fierceness in battle. 

“I love it. It’s beautiful. It’s a way for us to encourage so many women and young girls around the world. It’s empowering. It’s liberating. And to show ways in which women can come together on screen and something that we’ve been waiting for for a long time,” said Wright in an exclusive interview with Geek Culture. 

“To see this happen, and to see that it could birth new films and new ideas and the future is really beautiful. I’m honoured to be a part of it.” 

In the Black Panther end-credits, viewers learnt that it was also Shuri who healed Bucky from all the Hydra brainwashing. And when the Avengers came to Wakanda for help in Avengers: Endgame, it was Shuri who was tasked to save Vision. It was also Shuri’s communication devices that allowed the Avengers to coordinate in their final battle in Endgame. Without her creations, would the Falcon be able to get in contact with Cap’s comms in his helmet from so far away before jumping through a portal? The chances are, no.

There are no limits to Shuri’s brilliance and fierceness, and after three years, fans can finally welcome her back to the big screen, though, some things have changed. 

The sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever starts off with the nation mourning the loss of King T’Challa, the Black Panther. Shuri, heavily grief-stricken, buries herself in her science projects to avoid feeling the loss of her dear brother. Sadness, heartache, blame and perhaps even hate, consumed the princess. Whilst her brilliance was never stumped, her spark had dulled.

The bubbly and witty Shuri is gone. 

“It was really exciting to return to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.  It was exciting to represent and be a vessel for Shuri again,” shared Wright. “She’s going through her own process and we meet her at a time where she’s learning about how tough life can be. We see a shift in that, in that spark that we met in the first film. We see something going on there and we’re unpacking it in this film.” 

Wakanda Forever focusing on themes like grief and loss is not without reason. In 2020, the movie’s leading star Chadwick Boseman, who played King T’Challa and the Black Panther, passed after battling cancer. 

His death shocked fans, as well as his Black Panther co-stars, and grief quickly made a home in Marvel and the hearts and minds of fans who looked up to the actor. Black Panther had made Boseman a household name, and his portrayal of T’Challa created a huge cultural impact. Black Panther rallied for diverse representation in the superhero genre and without Boseman, it’s unlikely that films like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, with its Asian representation, or a series like Ms Marvel, with a Pakistani lead character, would be received with love and understanding today. 

Questions as to whether the titular character would be recast floated about in Marvel’s meeting rooms and fan discussions on social media, but those involved made the decision to note recast T’Challa, but proceed as if the character died as well. And the sequel, which at the time was focused on T’Challa’s psyche and situation as the Black Panther, needed an entirely new script, something that director Ryan Coogler was more than happy to oblige. 

In some ways, Wakanda Forever is a tribute to the late actor and ensures that Boseman’s legacy lives on in a respectful way, and Wright categorises the movie as a “love letter” to her co-star. 

“When I say this is a love letter to him, for me, it’s my way as Shuri to to pour my heart into the story and into the film to make sure that every time I’m on set, I do it with excellence and to pour all of my love for him into into the fibres of the story, into the fibres of the character,” shared Wright. 

“Those are the ways in which I feel like this is a love letter to him and hopefully you guys will think the same when you finish watching it.” 

Part of coping with loss and grief, is acceptance, renewal and moving on and while T’Challa will not be recast in Wakanda Forever, Wakanda still needs a Black Panther to protect it from the prying and greedy eyes of outside nations, especially that of the United States who have taken a keen interest in the African nation’s resource of vibranium, and part of the film’s mystery is the secrecy around who takes on the mantle of the Black Panther.

But governing powers outside of Wakanda’s secret walls are not the only thing Wakanda has to shield itself from, as a big part of Wakanda Forever is focused on the war between the African nation and the underwater kingdom of Talocan. 

Protecting Wakanda are the Dora Milaje, the J’abari tribe led by M’Baku, Nakia, Okoye and Aneka and finally, the new Black Panther. In an intense fight against Namor the Submariner, Attuma, Namora and soldiers of Talocan, Wakanda Forever shows the first fight in the MCU between surface land and underwater societies. 

“Man it was.. oh my.. we have so many great action in this movie. Everybody’s pulling up and giving 100% and I think it’s, it’s a part of the universe, right? We can’t have Marvel without action so we’re really excited to see what you guys think of the sequences and the ways in which everybody’s protecting the nation,” smiled an excited Wright.

After a tough journey, Wakanda Forever is finally hitting cinemas on 11 November. The movie will see the return of Letitia Wright as Shuri, Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda, Lupita Nyong’O as Nakia, Danai Gurira as Okoye and Winston Duke as M’Baku. It will introduce Tenoch Huerta as Namor the Submariner and Dominique Thorne as Ironheart. 

“I’m proud of a lot. I’m proud of us as a team and as a family, that we stayed together to do everything. You know, it’s been a tough time to lose our brother but we stayed together. And we made something beautiful. And now we can share it with you guys,” concluded Wright. 

But what comes after? In the last year, Marvel Studios has been introducing younger heroes in movies and on Disney+ shows, from a new Hawkeye, Ms Marvel, America Chavez and soon, Stature. Even if she’s not the new Black Panther, would there be a place for Shuri among the young heroes, ala Young Avengers?

“I would love for that to happen,” says the actress, before quickly adding, “I think Kevin (Feige) is the best person to talk to.”