“My voice is all gone,” said Letitia Wright. “I sound like a hoarse-y man.”
While the sentiment was a bit of an exaggeration, Wright was beginning to go hoarse after a week of nonstop press for Marvel’s highly anticipated Black Panther.
In the film (now playing in theatres), Wright shines as Shuri, King T’Challa’s 16-year-old sister and the princess of the fictional African country of Wakanda. (With a short, asymmetrical haircut and delicate features, the 24-year-old convincingly passes for a teenager.)
“People her age are not usually put in charge of things,” Wright said of Shuri. “You have to look to the adults all the time.”
As described on the film’s promotional posters, Shuri is T’Challa’s right-hand woman (well, one of them) and very much her brother’s keeper.
“It’s a lot of love and loyalty between them and they have each other’s backs,” she said. “He’s got her and she’s got him. They’re royalty, but there’s still something about them which the world can relate to. They make a good team.”
“People keep saying this thing about Shuri being the Q to T’Challa like in James Bond,” she continued. “She looks out for him and she protects him. She also tells him the truth.”
Besides being next in line to the throne, Shuri also happens to be a tech genius, fashioning all of Black Panther’s vibranium tech out of her own lab.
“I stayed very closely with the script,” Wright said of how she prepared for the role. “I trusted what Ryan [Coogler] and Joe [Robert Cole] were going to be doing with it. And I didn’t look at the comic books because I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by the fact that she has such an important part in the Wakandan world.”
Born in Guyana and raised in London, Wright also prepped by watching documentaries about young African women in the STEM fields.
“[I’d] just listen to their challenges, which were similar to what Shuri goes through,” she said. “I found that was a reality for many girls in Africa, they were looked down upon. I used that to influence my performance and fuel the drive that Shuri has to really push the boundaries of the technology.”
Wright has been acting since 2011 on British shows like Top Boy, Doctor Who and Humans and in films such as The Commuter and Urban Hymn, which led to a BAFTA nomination in the most promising newcomer category. Late last year, Wright enjoyed a buzzy starring role as Nish in the Black Museum episode of Charlie Brooker’s Emmy-winning Black Mirror. But with the blockbuster Black Panther, Wright will experience her first taste of global fame.
“Oh man, I never really thought about it like that,” she said. “In my mind, I don’t really see myself as being famous. I just think my work is being exposed to a bigger audience.”
“I’m just a local girl,” she added. “I’m just a young girl trying to fulfil the purpose that’s been placed in my heart to do.”
In both Black Panther and Black Mirror, Wright plays characters that are deeply affected by technology: the mastermind behind it and a victim of it, respectively.
In Black Museum, Wright’s Nish is a visitor at the eponymous roadside attraction who has a mysterious tie to one of the exhibits. The episode, which serves as its own anthology within an anthology series, touches on the American prison system, mass incarceration and exploitation.
“Shuri is very different from Nish in Black Mirror,” Wright said. But it’s important to her that every character she plays is multidimensional.
“I want you to leave with something,” she explained. “Whether you leave feeling inspired like what Shuri leaves you with or you leave thinking about all the black men that are put in prison and [are] being used … ” she paused to make sure that comment was on the record.
“I don’t want to do it just to do it,” she continued. “[It] doesn’t necessarily have to be a political storyline or topic, but it has to have something to say, there has to be of some type of meaning. It has to be worth my while so it can mean something to someone else to sit there for an hour and watch it.”
As to the tech throughline in her recent roles, Wright admits that she’s no real-life Shuri: “I just have my iPhone and I just chug away at that.
“I think it’s just the season I’m in at the moment,” she admitted. “Next time it might be something else, another theme. No, I’m not super-smart and tech-savvy. I leave that to Shuri. But the type of tech that they have in Wakanda? Aw, man, I wish I had that for real.”
A particular favourite gadget of hers are the gauntlets.
“The gauntlets are pretty cool,” she says. “But, aw man. If I reveal the other thing [I like] it’ll be a spoiler.”
And from the Black Museum?
“Technology from the Black Museum, ah!” she says with a laugh.
“Not the head thing,” she says, referring to Dawson’s symphatic diagnoser. “Not that. I would take the portable car charger that allows your car to charge back up from the sun. Definitely taking that.”
Though Wright will appear next in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, Shuri will be back later this year for Avengers: Infinity War where she is likely to cross paths with fellow geniuses Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Wright is confident that Shuri will hold her own among them.
“I think she’ll be OK,” she said with a laugh. “I think she would humble herself to learn from them, and challenge them as well with new designs and new ideas from Wakanda. And she’s willing to learn from the West because her brother is so open now. I think she’s embracing that as well. She would hold her own.”
With Black Panther opening to rave reviews and record-setting box office, the movie feels even bigger than the blockbuster-level Marvel releases. How does it feel to be a part of such a cultural phenomenon?
“It feels good because it’s a moment,” Wright said. “It feels like a moment in time and it’s not going to be forgotten. And it’s going to open up a lot of doors for many more films like this to be made. I feel very empowered.”