It was an emotional start to the day for 24-year-old British actress Letitia Wright, who plays Wakandan princess Shuri in Disney’s 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 can’t believe I’m crying at 11 o’clock 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 Deadline’s Andreas Wiseman. “I don’t 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 people’s 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 girl’s dream.”
Wright said she’d 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 doesn’t 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 we’d look around and be like, ‘Oh snap, that’s Angela Bassett!’ We’d 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 wasn’t about box office, it wasn’t about trying to impress anyone. It was literally just a love of telling this story and putting a spin on what we’ve 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. We’re not in a film where we’re inferior, or we’re below the men, or we have to be just the object of someone’s affection. We’re 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 Vic’s upcoming production of Danai Gurira’s play The Convert, she’s looking forward to returning to Wakanda in Ryan Coogler’s 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.”