It’s hard to say who among the incredible cast of characters in Black Panther reigns supreme. But if you ask this writer, there’s be no question: Shuri, T’Challa’s 16-year-old sister and badass princess of Wakanda, deserves to be crowned queen of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Aside from her sheer show-stealing cool factor, Shuri is the brilliant inventor ensuring Wakanda remains the most advanced nation in the world. She equips her brother and their entire people with the cutting-edge vibranium technology, armor, and weaponry that enables them to kick such serious ass – like in that fantastic Busan chase scene.
And, if the comics are anything to go off of, she could play a huge role in providing the rest of the Avengers with high-end gadgetry for the upcoming Infinity War, and maybe even become the Black Panther herself someday.
According to the experts over at CBR, Tony Stark’s little science experiments will simply pale in comparison to what Shuri will be able to bring to the table. And the after-credits scene in Black Panther,where we see her helping to rehabilitate Bucky Barnes, already hints at the impact she can have in the battles to come.
But on a larger scale, Shuri represents a future much closer to our home, too. She is so much more than just the architect of Wakanda’s technology – she’s the vision of what an advanced society looks like. She represents the future we will need in our real world if we have any hope of reaching our full potential as a human nation.
Shuri is the future
Because, newsflash: the future is not only female as fuck, but also historically and currently built on the brilliance of black women (go see Hidden Figures and research its impact if you have any doubts about this).
What’s actually so fantastic about Shuri as a role model for women in STEM, though, is her unique upbringing in a society that is smart enough to see her for her brilliance and not her gender.
No special attention is given to the fact that Shuri is a woman of color in STEM. That’s the way it should be, if we want to lay the seeds for a future that’s even a fraction as evolved as Wakanda’s present.
During the Los Angeles press conference for Black Panther, the cast emphasized how one of Wakanda’s greatest assets is a culture that is first and foremost concerned with empowering whoever can get the job done best, regardless of gender or age.
“No one’s undermined,” said Letitia Wright, the actress who plays Shuri. “T’Challa is like, ‘Go ahead, sis, this is your department, this is your domain. Kill it. Just do your thing.'” And, in the end, Wright said, “That’s the mentality of a great king.”
Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Nakia, echoed that sentiment, saying that in Wakanda, “we see women alongside men, and we see how much more effective a society can be if they allow women to explore their full potential.”
Chadwick Boseman, the man behind King T’Challa himself, further solidified the importance of this Wakandan ideal, pointing it out as the true source of the nation’s greatness:
When you talk about what Wakanda is and what it would have to be in order to progress to the place that we see [in the film]… The idea of the next generation being smarter, being better than you is a concept that [the society] would’ve had to evolve to. So even though we’re in the same generation, [Shuri is] still my younger sister. She benefits from whatever I have reached. And you want your sons and daughters to be better than you were. That’s a Wakandan concept… You see the genius that is inside the people that come after you.
We can only imagine how much more advanced our real world society would be if it adopted this perspective. Obviously, the fact that, unlike the fantastical world of Wakanda, our world is defined by an ongoing history of imperialism means there are untold obstacles that need to be tackled before we reach this stage of evolution.
But as ideals, Wakanda and Shuri act as mirrors shining a light on our real-world faults and their human costs. A society that fails to empower its youth, women, and people of color fails to benefit from what a majority of the population can bring to the table.
There is a precedent for a Queen Shuri
But those aren’t the only reasons why we should get used to calling Shuri a queen and not just a princess. Because Shuri’s unparalleled talents – along with a moment in the film where she jokes with T’Challa about taking the crown for herself – raises the question: Why isn’t Shuri the ruler of Wakanda? Like, right now?
Well, she’s a little young. And, like Boseman says, she can benefit and become a greater ruler by allowing her brother to lead first. But if we look to Black Panther comics lore, Queen Shuri just might be something we can expect from (or at least hope for in) future installments.
The ruler of Wakanda is not always the same as the person who adorns the Black Panther suit and title. (For example, in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa is already the Black Panther before T’Chaka’s death makes him king.) The title of Black Panther is earned through trials, and their powers bestowed upon them by the Panther God.
During writer Reginald Hudlin’s run of the Black Panther comics in 2009, Shuri eventually does become the Black Panther, temporarily replacing her brother. And, granted, the film is certainly a story unto itself, creating its own version of events that doesn’t strictly adhere to any one of the comic book plotlines.
But the rules of Wakanda mean that we could eventually have the best of both worlds: T’Challa as a Black Panther who hangs with the Avengers and does all the superhero stuff, while Shuri rules as Queen of Wakanda. Or vice versa.
Did we mention how friggin’ rad she is?
All that heady stuff aside, let’s not undersell exactly how much Shuri’s cool factor, in and of itself, merits her being crowned our queen. Shuri brings so much of the humor, lightness, and charm of the film, without ever turning into a weightless, one-note comic relief character.
And by and large, she’s the Wakandan most savvy to our real world youth culture. I mean, did you even catch half of the cultural references she makes in the film?
As Comic Book points out, Shuri invents footwear for T’Challa that she says is based on a character from “that ’80s movie Father used to watch all the time.” What character is she talking about? Marty McFly, of course, and the futuristic, self-lacing sneakers he sports in Back to the Future Part II.
But as the resident young’un of the bunch, Shuri also seems to be hip to real-world memes. Before revealing the awesome new invention she’s calling “sneakers,” the princess looks down at her brother’s styleless, sorry excuse for footwear and shrieks in horror, “What are those?!”
Knowingly or not, that places Shuri at the center of the Twitter hivemind, since that exclamation can be traced back to the “What Are Those” meme. Does Shuri (or Wakanda at large) know about our real-world internet jokes? We can’t know.
But it definitely makes her even more relatable to a young audience who does know it, and will see themselves represented in this warrior princess who kicks ass with her mind, charm, and indisputable badassery.
So yes. We all happily left the theater screaming, “Long live the king.” But let’s not forget about the princess beside that king.
Because I left the theater looking to the future. And, if we’re lucky enough, we’ll all one day leave the theater shouting, “Queen Shuri – long may she reign.”
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