Not many people, except for Marvel comic book fans and particularly Black Panther comic fans, know about the character of Shuri, the Wakandan whiz-kid princess, daughter of the late King T’Chaka, sister of King T’Challa, the Black Panther, and the future Black Panther herself. But all that is about to change because of Letitia Wright, the actress who portrays Shuri in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther.
If you have read or seen any review or coverage of the film, then you know that the consensus is that Ms. Wright steals every scene in which she appears. She seems to effortlessly hold her own with more experienced actors who have years more experience and lengthier resumes. She infuses her portrayal of Shuri with a youthful exuberance mixed with a dose of determination and maturity, such that it hardly seems correct to apply the term “ingénue” to either the actor or the role. In the opinion of many, myself included, she is the most memorable character in a movie filled with memorable characters.
Only 24 years old, Letitia Wright caught the acting bug about twelve years ago when she saw the movie Akeelah and the Bee and, inspired by the lead character, began pursuing a career in film and television. Though fairly unknown to American audiences, sci-fi fans may recognize her from appearances in episodes of Black Mirror and Dr. Who. But British audiences are likely familiar with her work in the film Urban Hymn, the popular TV series Cucumber and its sister series Banana, as well as the sci-fi TV series Humans.
If making a big splash in what is arguably the biggest film of the year has gone to her head, you’d never know it. Poised and confident, spiritually centered, the young woman playing Disney’s latest princess seems to be calm in the midst of the media storm swirling around her.
She had a genuine smile and warm welcoming demeanor when we sat down to chat about her role in Black Panther, the biggest film of the year.
DaVette See: I know you have acting experience, but among the cast you’re probably the “baby” and the “baby” actor on the set. But I’ve seen the film and you walk away with it. Everyone at my screening was saying the same thing, “Shuri was the best!” Have you gotten a sense of that from people and, if so how are you feeling?
Letitia Wright: I’m hearing it. I’ve not been looking online, I’ve just been hearing positive feedback, not just for myself but for the whole cast, for Ryan, for Chad, just for everyone, so just all in all for us to have that support has been really, really, wonderful, and it’s just, again, something I’ve been praying about, and I’m going to continue to pray as it’s going to go out in the world that it has a positive effect. That it leaves people feeling just good, just happy, just joyful, and also able to reflect because there are a lot of things that are discussed in this film and a lot of subject matter that is being brought to the forefront.
And just for us to have a moment of celebration too. Like, all of us, as everyone that goes to the cinema together to have a moment of celebration.
I was just happy to have the chance to be involved in the film, and we all worked hard. I know I worked hard and I prayed really hard, like for everything to come together and just to see that reaction not only for my character but for everybody as a whole and it’s something we are all really grateful for.
DaVette: Well, it’s a wonderful ensemble. I mean you can always tell that. And to me that always comes across on the screen. You can tell when a group of people just really gel behind the scenes and then you see it on screen and it translates beautifully.
So, just a question about that. Again, you’re the “baby” actor of the cast, so did they treat you like that on set? Like, “Alright you! Just sit in the corner.”
Letitia: No they didn’t. That’s the thing. They never treated me like that, Ryan never treated me like that, like, he didn’t say “Your opinion sucks!” No. He was like. “Tish, how do you feel, do you feel good, what’s your ideas, what do you want to add, what do you want to take away? Would Shuri say something like that?” Like sometimes there would be stuff that was written in the script and I would be like, ”Ah, bro, she wouldn’t say that.” “Okay, what do you think she would say?”
Like there’s one scene where we are bringing in someone to help and Shuri was like, “Oh, another one of—.” That happened because the day before we shot it, I was saying to Ryan on set that, because of this connection to that and that and this, Shuri would make this comment to her brother. And he was like, “Okay cool, try it.” When I saw it on screen, I was like, “Oh snap, yes it worked!”
So, yeah, everybody treated me with love and respect.
DaVette: How much did you research Shuri as written in the comics? Or did you just rely on the script and Ryan’s guidance?
Letitia: I don’t know why this kept happening, but as soon as I figured out during the audition process when I was going up for the role of Shuri, who is a very important part of the Black Panther universe and that she ultimately becomes the Black Panther, I think that’s when I figured that out, I stepped all the way back from looking at the comic books because I felt that it would add a lot of pressure to me that I didn’t need. Every time I wanted to go and research more about her I kept feeling like wrong, I kept feeling like “Don’t do that, don’t do that.” I kept being pushed away from that in my spirit. And I know that I just relied on the script, so I just said, I trust Ryan, I trust Joe, two of the writers combined, to pick what they need from the comic books and put it in for Shuri. And also, the thing that was different for Shuri in the Marvel Cinematic Universe compared to the comic books, is that when I first read about Shuri, Shuri ‘s very fierce. Like we meet Shuri in the comic books where she’s like trying to get the throne. Like she just like after getting the throne off T’Challa. She wants to be in that position, she’s hungry for the throne. Where we meet her in the film is that she’s younger, she’s much younger and she’s developing, and she doesn’t have a great desire for the throne, as yet. She’s like “Whenever that’s meant to be, that’s meant to be, but I want to create technology.” She’s into graphics and graphic designs and technology and science and creating cool armor. She’s in to all that stuff.
So I didn’t research a whole lot, one because I didn’t want to feel the pressure, and I didn’t want to take anything from the comic book that was a certain way because Ryan wanted it to be very light and fun.
One day on set basically I was playing the scene very, very seriously, and Ryan kept coming up to me as saying, “Hey, uh, say it a little bit lighter,” and I couldn’t understand that, I was like “What?”. Then Angela kind of pulls me to the side and said “Hey, you have a lot of light. When the camera comes off, you’re bouncing around this place and there’s a light that keeps shining from you and there’s an energy that’s very positive. But soon as the camera comes on you’re very timid and like, ‘Okay I’m just going to say my lines a bit quietly.’”. She’s like “We don’t need that! Everybody is playing it very seriously serious. So, whatever you’ve got inside of your soul, we need that!” That’s when it clicked to me. Shuri just needs to be love and light and free like a butterfly and just let it out. And how ever I am as Letitia, I need to let some that seep through, for Shuri.
DaVette: Shuri’s smart, she’s the smartest, THE smartest. Smarter than Tony Stark. What do you think, is she tapping into something? T’Challa is a leader, and he’s a natural leader, whether he wants to believe that or not, he comes into that. Do you think Shuri always is the smartest person in the room, does she always know that she’s the smartest person in the room, like from the time she was young?
Letitia: I think, I think what was wonderful about the fact that Shuri’s the way she is, is because T’Challa is very smart, too, but T’Challa has to focus on many different things. He has to be a leader for like the political and the political stance of the kingdom, he has to be able to have that type of knowledge as well about, you know, all the things that’s going on with the tribal elders, and the different factions of Wakanda. He needs to know what’s going on with the Avengers outside of Wakanda and the connection that has. He has to be fully well-rounded as a king. For Shuri, she’s just had to, all she’s had to do is prepare for the throne, like in training, know what that procedure’s like, the, you know, know what that’s about, and put that to the side, like, “Ok, cool.” One day she’s “I’m next in line. Cool. Whatever.” But then Shuri, with her, where she is right now, she’s just like “I love creating” and I think Shuri grew up in an environment in Wakanda where she’s encouraged to be whatever she wants to be. I believe that before her father, T’Chaka, died, he was always the one that’s saying “Go to medicine school, go to…”, they have the best education in Wakanda, they have the best of the best of the best, and I think that Shuri really just loves technology, she loves creating things from Vibranium, she loves—she—that’s where she—she really, really loves that, and that love has allowed her to take in so much knowledge, and where’s it like, me and Ryan have these discussions, it’s like “Where would Shuri be if everybody’s in, when everybody’s in the tribal room?” She’s the princess. She should be there. She misses the meetings. Me and Ryan, it’s like, “What would Shuri do when they’re all talking about who’s gonna go after this and who’s gonna go after Klaue?”. She’s just like “You know what, meet me in my lab when you’re finished with your stuff.”
DaVette: “Tell me what happened.”
Letitia: “Tell me what happened. I’m gonna create the suits and the stuff and the armor that’s gonna protect you.” So that’s what Shuri’s about, Shuri’s all about how she can use her mind and how she can like just really help Wakanda to grow in an amazing way and protect it, like everything you see, all the armor, the Doras’ armor, Nakia’s armor, and everything, she created that.
Letitia: So that’s Shuri, and I love her. I LOVE her.
DaVette: I wanna say Shuri is gonna be the BEST role model for boys and girls—girls especially, but boys and girls—because she’s just such a powerful force on the screen.
Letitia: Bless you.
Davette: Thanks, you so much. I so much appreciate you giving us some time.
Note: Small portions of the above interview were edited for clarity.
Black Panther arrives in theaters Feb 16th. Purchase your Fandango tickets now!
Written by DaVette See
DaVette See lives in Inglewood, CA with her husband, Rob, her mother, and her seven (yikes) kitties. She has a BA in English and Theater and a Law degree. When not writing, reporting, and video editing for BGN, she operates Running Lady Studios and produces animated shorts. She was a geek before geek was chic. She loves books, plays, movies, and more than anything, she loves telling stories.