It was an emotional start to the day for 24-year-old British actress Letitia Wright, who plays Wakandan princess Shuri in Disneys Afro-futurist superhero hit Black Panther. Catching sight of herself in a brief clip from the film, Wright laughingly wiped a tear from her eye, adding, “I cant believe Im crying at 11 oclock in the morning…” The film may have made more than $1.3bn worldwide at the box office, but for Wright its success is much more personal.
“Literally, since I was a little girl and I decided I wanted to do acting, I always had this thing within me,” she told Deadlines Andreas Wiseman. “I dont know what it was, but it was this deep voice that was just like, I want to do work that means something. I want to do work that will be impactful. I want to do work that will affect peoples lives in a positive way, and I also want to do that for women, too. So playing Shuri was literally the answered prayer to a 14-year-old girls dream.”
Wright said shed known from the beginning that the film would be something special. “From the sides alone,” she said, “the dummy sides that they sent me – to fake the script, so it doesnt get leaked – I could tell that the women in this film were going to be represented correctly.” And on set, that feeling only intensified. “We would do our scenes, and have moments where wed look around and be like, Oh snap, thats Angela Bassett! Wed see the amazing amount of talent that was in one room, in one space. And from the jump, we had just a love for this story. It wasnt about box office, it wasnt about trying to impress anyone. It was literally just a love of telling this story and putting a spin on what weve seen of the diaspora of African people. Just bringing something different.”
Recalling the time she saw the film in a Cuban hotel room with Spanish subtitles, Wright said that the success of Black Panther has followed her all around the globe. “I have young girls and women come up and say to me, Hey, this is a new kind of representation for us. Were not in a film where were inferior, or were below the men, or we have to be just the object of someones affection. Were equal. We can hold our own. Everybody holds their own space in this film.”
The effect, she said, has been profound, and, after a stint on the London stage in the Young Vics upcoming production of Danai Guriras play The Convert, shes looking forward to returning to Wakanda in Ryan Cooglers upcoming sequel.
“I feel like there was such a need for it in our culture,” she reflected, “there was such a need for it in our industry, that when we got it, we grasped it and we ran with it.”