Marvel Studios’ Black Panther was one of the most anticipated movies of 2018 and had a lot of pressure on it to perform well both critically and financially at the box office. Furthermore, Black Panther was so hyped up due to its portrayal of the different African cultures to mainstream media that the movie earned itself the label of “one of a kind” even before releasing. Needless to say, it exceeded everyone’s expectations by earning a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and smashed box office records by earning a whopping 1.3 billion.
Entering into Marvel Studios’ 18th instalment, I was filled with excitement and was eagerly anticipating the reveal of Black Panther / King T’Challa played by Chadwick Boseman and the kick-ass action sequences of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that we’ve all grown to love. After two and a half hours of flying cars and trains, heartbreaking, exhilarating scenes and the impeccable acting of the cast, one character who resonated with me the most was Shuri, the sister of T’Challa played by Letitia Wright. The newest MCU teenager, Shuri, lit up screens with her cheerful attitude and was marvellous, no pun intended, in every scene, she was in. She channelled her youth by constantly making pop culture references like the famous “What are those” vine and the “Sneakers” joke whereby she names her sound absorbing shoes “sneakers”. Moreover, she was a much-needed breath of fresh air from the content heavy, serious plot of the movie. The most impressive thing about Shuri was that she spearheaded the Wakanda* Design Group and oversaw Wakanda’s technological advancements which are clearly light years ahead of other nations. Not to mention the development of the eye-catching Black Panther suits and the amazing stealth quinjet* which was featured in the opening scene. She has managed to accomplish all this at the young age of 16. Despite all these mind-boggling achievements, she remains down to earth.
Although there are a few instances where she reminds her brother that he wouldn’t be a formidable superhero without her innovative creations. The display of Shuri’s brilliance in the movie has resulted in fans seriously debating if Shuri indeed is the smartest MCU character. However, she faces strong competition from veterans geniuses like Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). The underlying message was more apparent, the more I pondered about Shuri’s representation in the movie. Shuri’s purpose apart from the obvious reason of suiting her brother up in a bulletproof catsuit, was to show that females of African descent can achieve greatness in STEM fields even if it is contrary to popular stereotypes that exist. In today’s world, we don’t see many black women in STEM-related jobs.
Although there have been some improvements towards countering this problem, these improvements are insignificant as STEM industries are still being dominated by males. Also, the continent of Africa is often illustrated as a sombre place suffering in poverty. And black people have been discriminated and stereotyped to do certain jobs. Hence, society doesn’t expect or rather accept a black woman being a scientist or an engineer. To illustrate my point, a study done in 2015 by the National Girls Collaborative Project showed that less than 1% of all U.S. engineering bachelor’s degrees were given to black women. This is despite the fact that black women are more likely to express interest in STEM majors than white women according to the American Psychological Association. The sharp contrast is seen in the movie as Shuri leads young black teens in a stunning lab to model the technological paradise, Wakanda and help sustain its growth by developing innovative creations using the abundance of Vibranium* which is found in Wakanda.
Moreover, an African nation is illustrated vibrantly and prospering in all frontiers, especially in terms of technological advancements, which makes developed countries like Japan and USA look like they’re still in the 19th century. However, as stated above this clearly isn’t how we view Africa. This adaptation serves as an inspiration to the audience, particularly black females, by showing that they too can contribute to the Science’s progress. It attempts to challenge today’s status quo that women of colour aren’t qualified to be scientists by displaying not just Shuri but other black women working in the Wakandan research facility. Furthermore, it depicts Science as a fascinating field of study that can be extremely beneficial to one who decides to venture into STEM. This was done as the movie flexes Wakandan tech.
One example is when CIA agent Everett Ross, struggling for his life after receiving a bullet to the spine, is instantly healed by Shuri’s technology. He is perplexed as he is fully healed and questions whether Shuri used magic to which she rolls her eyes and says “Not magic. Technology.” If someone were to create something similar, millions of people can be cured of paralysis due to spinal injuries and be given the ability to walk again. However, the part where black youths would find an inspiration to embark on their own journey into Science comes towards the end of the movie. T’Challa and Shuri are in a black neighbourhood in Oakland, California where T’Challa sets up the Wakanda International Outreach Center. He then tells Shuri that she will lead its Science and Information Exchange and lands his quinjet on the ground in front of the children playing. As expected, they were bewildered when they saw a spacecraft like object land in front of them out of nowhere. The movie ends by offering a glimmer of hope to the audience as Shuri educates the boys about the jet while they are eagerly analysing the jet. Hence, by showing this scene as well as the many innovations made by Shuri, the movie conveys the message that the possibilities and achievements that black youths, mainly females, can accomplish in STEM are endless and that nothing should hold them back from accomplishing their goals.
*Wakanda – Wakanda is a fictional African nation appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. It is the most prominent of several native African nations and home to the superhero Black Panther.
*Vibranium – a nearly indestructible element that crash landed from outer space millennia ago into the African region that would become Wakanda
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