We need to talk about Princess Shuri.
‘Black Panther’ is not only a movie; it’s an experience. Not only did it amass more than $200 million dollars during its opening weekend — proving that black people are powerful beyond measure — it also showcased characters with depth.
But, as powerful as ‘Black Panther’ was for the adults, the potential impact it can have on black boys and girls who watch it is immeasurable. And though there are many, one character sticks out as a shining example of black girl power for young black girls, Shuri.
Twenty-four-year-old actress Letitia Wright played Shuri, the spunky younger sister of King T’Challa, portrayed by Chadwick Boseman. She’s hilarious, smart and full of wit. As important as King T’Challa (the Black Panther himself) was, he was only as good as the tools she created herself.
When we look at Shuri, we can only ask ourselves how many more Shuris exist who have untapped potential that can be used in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields where women of color are underrepresented. Over the years, we have seen the reports that describe the ignored potential of women in STEM fields like engineering, such as Ignored Potential: A Collaborative Road Map for Increasing African American Women in Engineering from the National Society of Black Engineers. This report, like so many others, provides us with a snapshot of what STEM has looked like for women of color in the last decade. In 2015, less than one percent of all U.S. engineering bachelor degrees were given to black women, and minority women compromise fewer than one of 10employed scientists and engineers.
With STEM jobs expected to increase by 2020, more African-American women are needed. To see a young black woman on the screen like Shuri engineering tools and using technology as a weapon of choice is important and can be inspiring. For some little girls, it might even be life-changing.
After seeing Shuri, some young lady may take a second look at how she views and uses technology. As much as we needed ‘Black Panther’ as a movie, we needed Shuri as a representative to help show young girls the possibilities.
Organizations like Black Girls Code have made it their mission to support young girls like Shuri and break down the barriers and preconceived notions that suggest STEM isn’t for girls of color. Black girls can and should code, too. Our job is to support them like we supported the movie. If we can have a black president, then we can have a generation of girls who break down the walls keeping them out of STEM fields and help them prepare to take over the world with the click of a few buttons or HTML codes.
Ryan Coogler gave us a lot with ‘Black Panther,’ but the gift is having my nieces and future daughters watch young women like Shuri and know that anything is possible.