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How “Black Panther” Star Letitia Wright Is Inspiring the Next Generation of STEM Innovators

Photos: Courtesy of Matt Kennedy, Marvel Studios

Growing up in the South American country Guyana, Wright was taught early to value and work hard for her education. But, she recalls, there wasn’t much emphasis placed on STEM topics — and a career in entertainment was definitely outside the norm. “You’re kind of encouraged to either get into education or be a lawyer or a doctor,” the actress shares.

STEM visibility

In part, that’s what drew her to the character of Shuri, an off-the-charts brilliant teen tech wiz known for her elaborate vibranium creations. “She was different,” recalls Wright. “She was representing girls I hadn’t seen in the industry or the medium of film before.”

In addition to record breaking box office results, the massive reaction to Wright’s warrior princess — including Serena Williams hosting a private screening for a few lucky members of the nonprofit organization Black Girls Code — clearly demonstrated that the world agreed, and representation of young women in STEM was long overdue.

The next generation

Wright is thrilled that her role in the film is speaking to a new generation of tech-geniuses, and hopes that, as an ongoing outcome of the film, “a lot of young people, not just girl but boys too, can be inspired to be more involved in the STEM movement and be encouraged that it’s fun.”

Parents, Wright urges, can play their role by nurturing an early interest in science, technology, engineering and math. “Everybody should just be open to what their kid wants to do. Let them know that they can make a difference.”

Wright also reminds parents that though Shuri made waves, her character is still an anomaly, and their young STEM fan might “feel like they’re the only one interested in it.” Community, then, can be key to combating the problem of young girls leaning out of tech at an early age. “If [parents] get their kids to be surrounded with like-minded people, that in itself will help them to grow.”

Making an impact

To build on the momentum of “Black Panther’s” success, Disney recently made a $1 million donation to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to expand their STEM programming.

IN HER OWN SKIN: Both Wright and Shuri share a love for STEM, but also exude confidence in who they are. “She’s just herself,” Wright says of Shuri. “She’s happy in her own skin and to be her own person.”

“I’m really proud about that,” Wright says. The hope for those programs, she notes, “would obviously be to nurture those talented young people to get more into STEM and, in the future, to have a new generation of young people who are even better than Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and all the amazing people who have contributed so much to our society.”

When asked what qualities she shares with her on-screen persona, Wright shares, “We both want to contribute positively to our environment with our talents.” To her legions of fans, it’s pretty clear that she’s already had a significant impact, perhaps because of the confidence and magnetism that’s palpable in the Wakandan princess as well as real-world Wright. “She’s just herself. She’s happy in her own skin and to be her own person.”

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