Princess Shuri: The Hero We Needed
Issue   |   Tue, 02/27/2018 - 21:03

When I was growing up, my hero was Hermione Granger. She was a young woman notable not for her head-turning looks, but for her outstanding mind. Intelligence and bravery were her defining characteristics. She was the brightest in the class and relentlessly teased for her eagerness, but she was proud of her brain. Reading about Hermione’s coming-of-age in terms of intellectual and emotional instead of physical maturation gave me a hero to look up to who cared about the same things I did. I desired to be intelligent first, beautiful second because of Hermione. She shared my values, she shared my motivations, and therefore she inspired me.

This month, we got a new, brilliantly brave on-screen woman to look up to: Princess Shuri of Wakanda. Shuri is the Black Panther’s 16-year-old sister and the mastermind behind all of the extremely advanced, vibranium-based Wakanda tech that is miles ahead of anything the other Marvel geniuses could have ever even imagined. The energy-absorbent suits, remotely-piloted cars and 3-D holograph communicators are all her design. But beyond her intelligence, Shuri is courageous. Instead of hiding away in her lab, she plays a vital role in the actual execution of the missions she supplies. Whether it be driving the getaway car, healing the “broken white boy” or fighting fully-grown rebels hand-to-hand, she breaks every mold of what a hero’s younger sister has always been. She’s a young, intelligent, strong-willed, brave and heroic character all by herself.

While the millions of young fans that will inevitably see this movie will hopefully appreciate Shuri’s genius and relevance, it is the young black girls who have never had a comparable role model to whom she really matters. They’ll see that though Shuri is a beautiful girl, it is not her looks that make her special; it is her uniquely brilliant mind. They’ll see her appreciated for that mind and for her courage to use it for good. They’ll see her unapologetic and proud, but not ostentatious about her intellectual superiority. Any addition we can make to the lineup of on-screen female role models, especially those representing minorities so infrequently shown in such uniquely powerful roles, can help reinforce the notion that girls are powerful, intelligent and fearless.

As someone who has always loved books and movies, it was not terribly hard for me to find an epically inspiring female role model growing up, simply because of the sheer amount of media that I devoured. But what elevating a Shuri-type character to the large-scale role she plays will do is similarly elevate the people she represents, instead of burying them deep into peripheral characters. Shuri isn’t just a sidekick, a best friend or comic relief (though her one-liners are definitely a highlight of her character) — she’s her own, individually important character.

The importance of representation in media cannot be understated. For too long the heroes children had to look up to were the James Bonds and the Indiana Joneses of the cinematic universe. Recently, female heroes have been creeping on to screen (i.e. Wonder Woman, Rey, the female Ghostbusters), but “Black Panther” brought new representation to people of color. In her article for Vanity Fair, Johanna Robinson wrote, “After a packed advance screening of Black Panther in Los Angeles last week, two young boys went bounding ahead of the crowd leaping for joy and punching the warm night air. They weren’t pretending to be Black Panther, or even another Wakandan warrior. They were pretending to be Shuri.” Shuri is exactly the hero we need, and she’s exactly the hero that everyone wants. What these boys recognize is the enviable power of a young, female hero. And though it is the young women who may be able to more intimately see themselves reflected in Shuri, she provides an example for all young people for just what power they possess. The realm of representation on screen is only expanding and thus is bringing new meaning to what it means to be a hero.