The next Black Panther is anti-vax, and Marvel can't do anything about it
Despite her alignment with the anti-vaxxer movement, Shuri’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is all but certain.
You might have heard Letitia Wright’s name recently.
On October 6, The Hollywood Reporter published a story about the quite literal lines drawn on Hollywood film and TV sets over Covid-19. The widespread anti-vaxxer movement has bled to even the productions of your favorite movies, with THR reporting that vaccinated and unvaccinated workers have been limited to “zones” on various sets. The publication names Wright as someone who opposes Covid-19 vaccinations. Furthermore, Wright’s allegedly made her views apparent on the set of the in-production Black Panther sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
“A number of performers, from Rob Schneider (now shooting Netflix’s Home Team) to Letitia Wright (filming Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) have shared anti-vaccine positions on social media,” writes THR. “In Wright’s case, a set source says she has espoused similar views about the Covid-19 vaccines on the Atlanta production.”
“The damage was done once Wright hit that share button.”
The publication added that Wright “quietly parted ways with her entire U.S. team of representatives” after she initially tweeted in agreement to a “controversial anti-vaccine video.” That video, which io9 broke down the week it happened, came from Tomi Arayomi, who espoused placing faith over science with regards to the then-widely unavailable Covid-19 vaccine. Arayomi further pushed false theories that the vaccines were produced by Chinese pharmaceutical companies (rampant anti-Chinese racism surged amidst Covid-19) while also making broad statements against climate change and transgender identities.
To be fair, Wright didn’t say much about Arayomi’s video. She only shared it on Twitter with the prayer hands emoji (Did you know it’s actually a high five emoji?) and later deleted the tweet. Still, the damage was done once Wright hit that share button.
For someone playing a character whose intelligence is unparalleled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it sure does suck that the very real human playing her subscribes to widely debunked conspiracy theories readily disproved by science. What’s extra disappointing is the real possibility that Wright may be the next Black Panther.
Shuri and Black Panther 2
In the summer of 2020, fans mourned the death of actor Chadwick Boseman, who battled Stage 3 colon cancer. With Black Panther comic books at the ready, fans speculated his successor would be Wright’s Shuri, the younger sister of Boseman’s T’Challa who assumes the mask of Black Panther in the comics by writer Reginald Hudlin.
At the time, it was logical. With ideas about who gets to be a superhero role model undergoing a progressive evolution, it seemed fitting — and exciting — that the franchise’s most visible young Black woman, a fan-favorite, will step up to an even higher profile.
But Wright’s recent issues reveal the design flaw in Marvel’s Death Star. The entire fandom hinges on excitement for the next movie, Disney+ show, or post-credits twist. So when a Marvel star says something ignorant, offensive, or really anything that rubs folks the wrong way, the devastation felt by fans is increased tenfold as it ripples through the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
We’re stuck with Letitia Wright
The adage “separate art from artists” theoretically rings true, until reality sets in. Art is fundamentally informed by artists and their political and social values, even if it’s unintentional. While it’s not Wright’s job to write or direct Black Panther, she’s still playing Shuri, whose scientifically-minded intelligence is admired by those who meet her. And Wright’s prominence as a Marvel star means that when she speaks, people listen. So it matters when Wright pushes dangerous and false views on something that can save lives.
Yet it’s unlikely Marvel will fire Wright in the way Lucasfilm and Disney showed Gina Carano the door. Not only are there other Marvel stars with equally abhorrent viewpoints, but the Black Panther ship has set its course. Yes, they’re filming Wakanda Forever right this second. No, they seemingly couldn’t wait any longer after Boseman died to hold off on making the movie. Disney is a business, after all.
While I have no authority on whether Wright’s role of Shuri will become Black Panther or not, I can say for certain there’s no CGI powerful enough to erase Wright from the film at this point. Not when her role and destiny in the franchise are seemingly assured. No matter what snowballs out of Wright and her alignment with anti-vaxxers, there is at least the sure idea that Marvel is stuck with Wright and her decision. Just like the rest of us.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is scheduled to release on July 8, 2022.