Princess Shuri and The Power of Teens

There were a lot of things to love about “Black Panther." The majority black cast, Michael B. Jordan’s face, the kicka*s soundtrack, Michael B. Jordan’s butt, the beautiful cinematography, Michael B. Jordan’s abs.

But the thing that really stuck out to me was Shuri, the teenage princess and sister of Black Panther.

Now don’t get me wrong, teenage girls featured in superhero related media is not a new concept. Take Jubilee from the animated X-Men series.

She’s a teenager who’s recently added to the team, plucky and ready to go. However, as the series goes on, it becomes abundantly apparent that Jubilee is much more of a liability than an asset. She is constantly getting captured and her non-stop whining becomes stale incredibly quickly.

Yeah, Jubilee sucks, don’t @ me.

Shuri, on the other hand, is a much more active participant in the movie’s narrative. She’s not a plucky sidekick or damsel in distress. She’s the inventor of T’Challa’s suit and she created a majority of the technology in Wakanda. She’s directly involved in multiple battles. But she doesn’t fit the teenage genius stereotype - talking in jargon and acting wise beyond her years.

She acts like a normal teenage girl. She teases her older brother. She makes meme references. She’s just a typical Gen Zer (someone born between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s). Why is this important?

Because, to me, Shuri's character shows teenage girls that you can simultaneously do amazing things while enjoying your youth and femininity.  

Being a 21-year-old college junior, it has been a hot minute since I’ve been a teenager. But if my memory and 2013 Facebook photos serve me correctly, it sucked. A lot.

You’re covered in acne. Your hormones are in full gear 103 percent of the time. Livejournal is your only salvation. Don’t even get me started on the f*cked up institution of high school. And to make matters worse, nearly everyone around you thinks that both you and your interests are dumb.

We, as a society, hate teens - particularly teenage girls. We hate their stupid, floppy haired boy bands. We hate their sappy and shallow movies. We hate their squealing and their slang. If it’s associated with girls from ages 13 to 18, then it’s garbage.

And of course this disdain for teenage girldom tends to bleed into how we represent them in media. Because, say it with me kids, media representation has a tendency to reflect our opinions on certain groups of people.

Not to paint with a broad brush, but two major representations we tend to see with teenage girls are as follows - girls who fit the ultra vapid, ultra feminine stereotype of a teenage girl, or girls who don’t. Usually girls who do fit the stereotype are portrayed as dim-witted and shallow, while the girls who don’t are seen as strange for NOT fitting the stereotype.

Both of these stereotypes tend to have the joke be at the expense of teenage girls. The whole joke is “Get it? Because teenagers are dumb.”

Teenage girls are the perfect intersection of the underestimation we have for teenagers’ intelligence and misogyny, making them an easy target for ridicule. Now, this might seem like harmless jesting, but these stereotypes, like most stereotypes, tend to have more sinister ramifications.

On Feb. 14, 2018, a mass shooting occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida leaving 17 people killed and 14 people injured. The shooting sparked a conversation about gun control in the United States, a conversation we have been having for far too long.  

Survivors such as Emma Gonzalez have been calling out the politicians who accept contributions because of their lack of action towards gun violence. And while being celebrated by many, they’ve also received “criticism” as well. And by “criticism” I mean grown a*s adults telling them to sit down and shut up due to their age.

In many people's opinions, these teens who lived through that horrific incident, whose lives were changed forever by gun violence, shouldn’t speak on the issue because “they don’t know what they’re talking about” just because they’re young.

Sure, teens do dumb things from time to time. Yes, teens are responsible for Logan Paul’s and Lele Pons’ popularity. But for every teen eating a tide pod, there’s a teen who’s working hard to change the world for the better.

Just look at the multiple walkouts in the protest of gun violence that occurred over the past week.

Let’s not pretend that every single teen has their life figured out. But, at the same time, it’s important to let them know that they’re capable of doing amazing things at their age.

Teens are more than just a punchline. Engaging in teenage behavior doesn’t make you unworthy of being taken seriously. And one step in doing so is laying “the dumb teenager” stereotype to rest.

Powerful teenage girl characters didn’t begin with Princess Shuri, and hopefully they won’t end with her as well.

Photo Credits: Cover1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6