‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Actor Letitia Wright On Creating Joy After Loss
By stepping back into her role as Wakanda’s princess Shuri, Wright found a cathartic space to learn to carry a broken heart.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was always going to be a bittersweet challenge for BAFTA award-winning actor Letitia Wright.
In 2018, Ryan Coogler’s first Black Panther film dazzled audiences around the world, introducing us to Chadwick Boseman’s titular new hero and a standard for storytelling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that is yet to be eclipsed. Tragically, Boseman passed away two years later.
But by stepping back into her role as Shuri in Wakanda Forever, Wright found a cathartic space to build enough strength to carry her broken heart.
“In a bigger sense, she’s facing things that are really challenging for her in this film. So, we see how she develops and expands as she tries to understand herself,” Wright tells Junkee. “She’s trying to understand herself and her emotions, so we see how everyone gathers around her in this difficult time.”
Led by the late Boseman, Black Panther imagined a powerful Afrofuturist world within the MCU: a kingdom called Wakanda untouched by foreign colonialism, built on the power of a precious powerful resource known as vibranium, and dutifully protected by the Black Panther.
In the first film, Boseman’s Prince T’challa ascended from the vigilante prince of a hidden country to the gracious king and symbolic protector of a world-leading nation. In the Avengers installments of the MCU that followed, we were given hints that Wakanda had become more formidable than ever under the new King’s reign. But back in the real world, Boseman had passed. After Disney announced that King T’challa would not be recast out of respect for the late actor, the question of how a Black Panther sequel would proceed began to take shape.
How would the actor’s sudden and indescribable loss be acknowledged within his role as T’challa? How does Wakanda fare on the world stage without its king or its Black Panther, and who will succeed the gone but never forgotten King?
Soon, we’ll have answers to these and many more questions. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is out in cinemas this week, and its star, Letitia Wright, aka Princess Shuri, cannot wait for you to see it. Especially, if you, like her and so many others, are grieving Boseman’s loss.
“In so many ways, Shuri and myself share a parallel of emotion in this film because we’re both dealing with something that has broken our hearts,” Wright explains. “She has to bite away at the pain that is hurting her. So, she does and you see how grief turns into strength, and I think that could be beneficial to the world.”
With any sequel comes the pressure of surpassing and matching its predecessor and for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the pressures are tenfold. How do you follow up on such a culture-altering phenomenon? Wright simply believes in the work and its significance to the people that matter most.
“We just want to release something we feel is beautiful, positive, and encouraging,” says Wright. “When we release the art, it belongs to the people.”
Still, the cultural impact of the first film on embracing Black stories on-screen is undeniable. While racist reactions to the inclusion of Black actors in fantasy series like The Rings of the Power and House of the Dragon indicate there is still a long road ahead, Wright believes Black Panther’s success lit a path forward.
“I would like to think Black Panther definitely opened up eyes to see the richness of the African diaspora and the richness of stories with African people at their centre, and how successful it can be and how innovative and impactful it can be. I feel that has led to other films and projects to be celebrated and appreciated in ways that maybe they wouldn’t have, back in the day.”
Cultural pressures and grief notwithstanding, Wright finds joy in the little things that make Shuri shine on-screen, including her style. “She’s the apple of my eye when it comes to all the characters I’ve played,” Wright gushes.
“Her swag is so impeccable. If I could steal anything from her wardrobe? Man, there’s these sneakers she wore in the first film that were really fresh. I don’t know if they were Rick Owens, but [costme designer] Ruth Carter is always making Shuri look so fly – I would definitely take those. And her gauntlets.”
Anguish, loss and responsibility abound for every character in Wakanda Forever, but the film’s major theme is how grief fortifies the bonds between friends and loved ones, Despite the loss of her brother, Shuri finds hope in a kindred spirit: newcomer tech prodigy, Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne).
“The relationship between Riri and Shuri is one of two geniuses trying to connect, and the ways in which they connect is so special,” she says. “They just have this combined personality that’s so beautiful. It’s like taking a fruit and cutting it in half and seeing one is Shuri and one is Riri and it’s the perfect combination. They’re just the perfect team. That’s the most I can say without giving it away.”
As quick as she is to praise Shuri’s newfound friends and her fashion style, Wright remains tight-lipped when asked if we’ll see Shuri don the iconic Black Panther suit. “That’s a loaded question that I don’t know how to answer because I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she laughs.
Ultimately, what Wright can share about what we can expect from Shuri in the sequel is very little. But when asked what she hopes audiences will take away from Shuri in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Wright smiles. “[I hope] you guys will be excited to see how she creates incredible things even while carrying a broken heart.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hit Australian cinemas this week.