Wakanda is the most technologically advanced world to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kept humming by the fictional-metal vibranium, the country is a showcase of innovation. Just consider their MagLev train system, which is composed of levitating cars that buzz around the city. Or the incredibly helpful Kimoyo beads that characters wear around their wrists. Or the augmented reality vehicles. And let’s not forget T’Challa’s high-tech nano suits, which, among other things, absorb blows and send them back in charged blasts of kinetic energy. All of this technology is overseen not by some cantankerous middle-aged man but 16-year-old Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and chief designer of Wakanda. She’s brilliant. She’s brave. She’s blisteringly funny. And she’s the hero every kid — especially young black girls — deserve.
Heroes come in all shapes, shades, and sizes. And so do the young children kids who look to them as role models. Unfortunately, not every kid has gotten the chance to see someone who looks like them save the world on the big screen. This includes brainy, tech-savvy black women. Not anymore.
Shuri, played wonderfully by Wright, is a girl not only takes her formidable talents seriously, but is respected and admired by every other character; she’s also enough of a teenager to have fun while doing her job. Shuri moves with excitement that only a teenager could echo, giving her creations intricate looks and names that show us that she genuinely gets a kick out of being such a skilled creator. She’s eager, excited, and more than equipped to act as the Q to T’Challa’s James Bond, all while remaining confident enough in her skills to casually tease her brother while calibrating complex equipment.
This alone would make Shuri a wonderful character. But she’s also feisty and always ready to get into the action. More so, she doesn’t turn down the opportunity to help, whether from her laboratory or on the field of battle, where she takes on and even (momentarily) bests Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in one-on-one combat. When thinking of heroes and what you want them to portray to kids — especially those ostracized for being “nerds” or for being minorities — Shuri checks them all. She serves her role in Wakanda without sacrificing her innate Shuri-ness.
Most importantly, no one in Wakanda questions her intellect or agency, and she is never once told that her ideas don’t matter Quite the opposite: T’Challa comes to her for guidance at multiple points, because she’s not just his sister — she’s a respected player in the game. Were it not for her knowledge of he vibranium to create such high tech and intricate suits, weaponry, aircrafts, and other high-tech developments, not only would Black Panther not have the tools to keep up with his foes but their city wouldn’t have the infrastructure. Like so many of the women in Black Panther, Shuri’s skills just are, and the fact that she is a girl in the fields of science and technology is never pointed out by the characters around her. She is exceptional, but she isn’t an outlier.
Though the freedom to be someone who identifies as a woman in STEM fields doesn’t go without backlash, ridicule, and setbacks – especially if they’re black — the presence of characters like Shuri in movies can help kids believe in their own curiosity, even when the going gets tough. That’s why, in a cast of excellent black actors and in a movie that represents a new kind of hero, Shuri might just be the most important and relevant character for today’s children.