Depictions of Women in STEM: Shuri, Black Panther

February 05, 2019

Written by: Alicen Ricard & Vanessa Reich-Shackelford 

This post contains spoilers for Black Panther.

When Black Panther came out early last year the world was introduced to Princess Shuri, portrayed by Letitia Wright, a spunky and sarcastic 16-year old who also happens to be a brilliant tech inventor. Now, for Black History Month, we want to take this opportunity to showcase this strong character whose technology has no small part in saving her homeland. When we first see her she’s giving the middle finger to her older brother, the king of Wakanda. Right from the get go we can see that Shuri is going to be an unapologetic spit-fire.  She knows exactly who she is and she isn’t afraid to embrace it, while also throwing out some shade or a zippy one liner.

Source: Hollywood Reporter

Shuri has found a way to manipulate the energy of vibranium, a fictional metal appearing in the Marvel Comics universe, to use in technology. She designed her brother’s Black Panther suit with technology that allows him to absorb energy from being hit and throw it back at the enemy. In other words, the harder he’s hit, the harder he can hit back. The suit also has sound absorbing shoes, which Shuri cheekily calls “sneakers." Plus, she has designed technology for other Avengers, such as Captain America’s new shield and his sidekick, Bucky’s, new arm. Her technology also keeps Wakanda running and she’s helped improve the transit system. Not to mention, she saved a man’s life. When an agent is shot, she’s able to use vibranium to cure what should have been a fatal bullet wound to his spine. In the end, her brother, the king of Wakanda, establishes the Wakandan International Outreach Centre, where Shuri is appointed the head of the science and information exchange.

Source: ABC News

Shuri instantly became a cultural phenomenon and an inspiration for young black scientists everywhere. In a previous post, we covered Dana Scully of the X-Files, who sparked a phenomenon called the "Scully Effect," which has influenced girls to pursue careers in STEM and forensics. We could, in essence, say that Shuri has sparked a "Shuri Effect." She’s become an inspiration for young girls, especially young black girls who now have someone to look up to who looks like them. Not only is the actress Letitia Wright aware of the effect that her character has had, but she’s also encouraging it. She’s teamed up with Shell to encourage girls to go into STEM fields.

About the character she portrays, Wright has said, "[Shuri] shows that when you have people coming together to just take time to make characters well-rounded, well-thought-out, not one way, amazing things like that happen. [...] Having a character arc and journey is refreshing, so it’s good writing...Now there’s a breakthrough of [audiences] seeing people [they] relate to and that’s refreshing.”

We have to agree. Seeing such a positive representation of black women in STEM fields is a breath of fresh air, especially compared to the less-than-positive depiction of another black character we have covered in our series, Patty Tolan of Ghostbusters. Shuri also has a small part in the Avengers: Infinity War movie of 2018 - see a clip here (spoiler alert for Infinity War!). Here's to hoping her character will get more screen time in the Marvel universe in the future.


The former Obama Administration's White House fact sheet lists 3 goals for fictional representation of women in STEM. We are noticing a trend in the movies and television shows we have reviewed - they meet some of the following goals better than others.

1.  Include diverse STEM role models (past and present): There aren't a lot of people in STEM roles in this movie, but considering the head of it in the movie is a sixteen-year-old black girl, we would say Black Panther definetely gets points for diversity.

2. Highlight the breadth of STEM careers and social impacts: Because the story of Black Panther takes place in a fictional universe, there are endless possibilities to the technology that Shuri can dream up. In this way, it is not a realistic representation of how STEM can be used to design new technology in our world, but it does offer a chance for girls to watch Shuri as an example and dream big, which is a win.

3.  Debunk STEM stigmas and misconceptions: Shuri is depicted as a girl who is totally in tune with new trends and is not an old, white, cisgender male in a lab coat. Her character is an example that women working in STEM can be young and cool, which goes against the stereotypical representations of scientists in media.

Check out our other Media Depictions of Women in STEM posts here. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more content about women in STEM. And check out this article on EurekAlert! all about how black women in STEM are writing their own powerful stories.