By Gwynne Watkins
Move over, Cinderella. There’s a new princess in town, and she’s wearing sneakers. Black Panther, which smashed box-office records this past weekend, introduced audiences to the royal family of Wakanda, a fictional African nation more technologically advanced (and impeccably accessorized) than any on earth. Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the title character, next in line for the throne after the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War. But it’s his younger sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), who’s making waves all over the internet, as it dawns on fans that the teenage tech genius is a real Disney princess.
Let’s talk about why this is a big deal. For one thing, there have been only two black Disney princesses in the 81 years since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That’s counting Kida Nedakh, the princess in the largely forgotten 2001 animated feature Atlantis: The Lost Empire (voiced by Cree Summer, who played Freddie on A Different World). The more prominent example is Tiana from 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, a member of the official Disney princess canon/merchandising juggernaut. Although she was presented as a hardworking restaurateur with the heavenly voice of Anika Noni Rose, Tiana is transformed into a frog for the majority of the film. Mothers going to The Princess and the Frog hoping their black daughters would finally see a princess who looked like them were instead presented with the adventures of a bizarrely skinny amphibian.
Shuri, on the other hand, is fully herself, all the time. Born to royalty, in a society that sees black women as leaders and warriors, she has limitless self-confidence. And she has earned that confidence by being amazing at everything. This is a girl whose inventions and technological savvy blow Tony Stark out of the water. She designed an ecofriendly high-speed train system for Wakanda, a bulletproof Black Panther suit that can be stored inside a necklace, and medical technology to heal severe wounds overnight. It’s work for the betterment of her people, and work in which she clearly takes joy.
On top of that, she’s the most runway-ready character in Wakanda, rocking urban-casual fashions that would turn heads on the streets of New York City. When she’s in her full warrior mode, she accessorizes with laser-shooting gloves (that she definitely designed) and a headdress made from animal jawbones. This is a princess who knows who she is, and isn’t afraid to show the world.