I'm sitting in a preview screening of Marvel's Black Panther, and amongst all the awe and anticipation of the studio's first black superhero film, everyone is laughing. Laughing, yes, and always, whenever one character graced the screen: Shuri, played by breakout star Letitia Wright.
But we're not laughing at her, we're laughing with her. She steals the show as the 16-year-old younger sister of king T'Challa, delivering as many jokes as she does high-tech, vibranium powered gadgets. Because Shuri isn't just the Princess of Wakanda, she also leads the Wakandan Design Group, pioneering much of the nation's technological advances. And as much as Black Panther is a leap forward in terms of African American representation, Shuri herself stands for a new, long-awaited female trope — one that buries the stereotypes of what it means to be a Disney princess.
It's easy for "the hero's little sister" to play a supporting role in this case. They tend towards passivity, held captive in the name of safety or as a bargaining chip, and emerging only in the face of said hero's victory. Shuri not only defies this, but forges her own path and becomes a crucial part in the Black Panther's success. As a tech-savvy mastermind, she's the best of the big-screen geeks combined, reminiscent of Peter Parker or even James Bond's Q. Producer Nate Moore even went as far to call her "the smartest person in the world, smarter than Tony Stark."
Notably, it is Shuri's unwavering confidence that also breathes new light into the princess role. T'Challa allows her abilities to truly shine and she's given adequate screen-time for audiences to see her in her element — both as a team mate and sister. Shuri isn't just a teenage girl who's been forced into the position, she's in that position because she is the best for it. She designs T'Challa's suit with the best knowledge of his combat in mind, and in perhaps the biggest direct jab to white supremacy in the film, doesn't hesitate — albeit jokingly — in calling Agent Ross (Martin Freeman) a "coloniser".
Shuri can wield a high-tech weapon in battle, and she can also relentlessly tease her brother. Shuri can be scared, but she can also be a rock. She can indulge in science, as well as be interested in Coachella and Disneyland. And at a time where representation in film is slowly but surely, expanding to more accurately reflect the diverse society we live in, what Shuri stands for couldn't be more powerful.