Opinion: Why Shuri Should Be the Next Black Panther (and the MCU’s Shuri Problem)


Chase Miller

Chadwick Boseman’s death was a tragic shock to Hollywood and the world. In less than a decade spent on screen, the acclaimed actor brought his luminous talent to a host of iconic roles. From his breakthrough performance as Jackie Robinson to his electric portrayal of “Godfather of Soul” James Brown, Boseman would have undoubtedly had a long career ahead of him telling important stories. He is most well known for his role as Black Panther in the Marvel cinematic universe — a mantle now left vacant. With a sequel on the horizon, it’s difficult to imagine the world of Wakanda without T’Challa and the franchise without Boseman as its charismatic emotional center. The superhero fan is nonetheless compelled to consider: Who will be the next Black Panther?

Time to unbury this lede: It should be Shuri. Who better suited to don the black and silver suit than its genius designer? Not only that, but the head scientist — oh, and princess — of Wakanda, whom audiences have already seen wield her own weaponized tech in the past? (Admittedly to little avail, but more on that later.) The MCU iteration of the character, portrayed by Letitia Wright, is the natural choice for the role based on the series’ established internal logic and character arcs. Though there are many other encapsulating characters in “Black Panther,” her familiarity with advanced Wakandan technology and proximity to the inheritance of the mask and mantle are unparalleled. The young princess’ existing position has already caused controversy among the tribes, with older men of authority leveling vaguely patriarchal sentiments and criticisms of her age in attempts to undermine her credibility as a scientist. How better to explore the evolving social norms and gender relations in their kingdom’s isolated, futuristic society than to let Shuri sonic blast through one more glass ceiling and take over the traditionally male superhero guise and accompanying national responsibility?

Thus far, Marvel hasn’t really known what to do with Shuri. In interviews after her first appearance, the Russo brothers confirmed a longstanding fan belief that she is the smartest character in the MCU. Despite her impressive intelligence and inventions displayed across her three appearances, she is rarely allowed a meaningful impact on the story. In “Black Panther,” she remotely pilots a Lexus through busy South Korean city streets for a few minutes before it’s promptly demolished so T’Challa can face his enemy alone. In “Avengers: Infinity War,” she attempts to surgically separate the caped crimson android Vision from the infinity stone powering his body and composing much of his programming, but it’s unclear how much progress she makes on this extremely difficult task before an alien henchmen throws her out of a window. (That’s not what anyone meant by breaking glass ceilings, Russos.) This is essentially how most of Shuri’s direct interactions with the plot play out.

Despite Wakanda announcing their existence to the world, we’ve yet to see their technology have an impact beyond its borders. The Shuri fan is forced to wonder, as they watch Tony Stark single-handedly invent time travel in one evening, couldn’t Shuri have been involved here? As Tony Stark designs yet another Spider-Man suit, the nagging question arises — why not consult the world’s leading vibranium armor expert? As Tony Stark’s satellite drones wreak havoc across Europe, he is cemented as the predominant inventor even after his death. The MCU’s preoccupation with maintaining Iron Man’s narrative centricity consistently undermines their claim that Shuri is his intellectual superior, as they default to attributing every major scientific achievement to the former.

To live up to the promise of Shuri’s character, she must be allotted more screen time and allowed a greater influence on the story. To select anyone else as Boseman’s successor would be an oversight.