Guyanese-Born Actress Letitia Wright's Meteoric Rise and Mental Health Advocacy
Letitia Wright/Photo Mike Marsla Getty Images
You know her as Princess Shuri in Marvel's Black Panther 1 and 2, and have seen her in other box office success films, including Steven Spielberg's sci-fi adventure Ready Player One. Letitia Wright is undeniably a Black actress on the rise.
First Time Acting
At age seven, Letitia Wright experienced culture shock when her family migrated to Tottenham, London, from Guyana. Coming from a place with a strong sense of community, she shared in an interview with Caribbean Beat that living in England was a stark contrast to what she was accustomed to in Guyana.
Letitia was teased for her thick Guyanese accent, so she tried to change how she spoke when interacting with her peers. Although Letitia was simply attempting to adapt to her new environment at the time, this was her first foray into acting.
Her interest in acting was piqued when she saw the 2006 film Akeelah and the Bee, starring Black American actress Keke Palmer. Seeing someone who looked like her and was portrayed with such positivity inspired Letitia to pursue acting as a career.
The Blossoming of a Young Talent
Letitia was invited to join an after-school acting class by her teacher. Although she initially had reservations, that would all change when she landed the lead role as Rosa Parks in a play for Black History Month. She nailed Rosa's American accent, which boosted her confidence and made her even more excited about the prospects of becoming a professional actress.
"I took a picture in my bathroom and started sending it to agents, putting all my primary school CV stuff together, pretending like it was an actual CV, but someone saw it, and someone gave me a chance," she said to Interview Magazine as she described her professional start in acting at sixteen years old.
Her career was on its feet, sprinting as more roles in television came. Work came quickly at the beginning of her now decade-long career, from her first two-episode role in the hospital drama series Holby City to her role in the crime drama Top Boy. After she appeared in an episode of Doctor Who, Letitia was cast in her first-ever lead role in the 2015 film Urban Hymn as a troubled but talented teen who gets help from a social worker.
While the sun shone on her flourishing acting career, behind the cameras, Letitia was struggling with depression.
Away From the Spotlight
Taking a step back from acting in 2015, Letitia threw herself into her religion. Her Christian faith was the most significant help in her recovery. She put her career on pause and turned down a role in a film with Nicole Kidman for the sake of her mental health. She strengthened her relationship with God and was well on her way to quitting acting. "I wrapped it up and was done with it, happy to do anything that was more chilled," she said to the Hollywood Reporter. "But that's not the way God had it with me."
Ready and rejuvenated to get back into the swing of things, Letitia returned to the screen in 2016, playing small roles in The Commuter, Ready Player One, and a TV role in season two of the sci-fi show Humans.
Letitia's Big Break
A single role can change an actor's life forever. For Letitia Wright, that big break came when she was cast in Marvel's Black Panther as Shuri, T'Challa's "Black Panther" witty younger sister. The role skyrocketed her to international stardom, and Letitia, along with the cast of Black Panther, won several awards.
After the film's massive success, Letitia won the Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Actress in a Sci-Fi in 2018. In 2019, she went on to win an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Breakthrough Role in a Motion Picture and a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Rising Star Award was awarded to Letitia that same year.
Letitia got her first role in voice acting in the musical-animation movie Sing 2 as Nooshy – a Canadian lynx who teaches Johnny, one of the main characters, how to dance. That role led to an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance in a Motion Picture.
Healing a Community.
With the immense growth of her career, fanbase, and platform, Letitia spoke out about her struggles with depression and the stigma placed on mental health in the Black Community. In an interview with Teen Vogue, Letitia said, "in the black community, it's something that happens, but we don't speak about it. We must continue talking about it and bringing it straight to the forefront."
Her bravery in speaking out caused people to approach her with words of thanks constantly. Now, she continues to be an advocate for mental health and hopes that sharing her experience will be an encouragement to others fighting similar battles.
Big on self-care, Letitia winds down by immersing herself in as many movies as she can. She also enjoys spending quality time with her family and friends. Letitia believes that time spent with those close to you is important regardless of if you're laughing or crying.
Choosing her Roles
The Guyanese-British actress is highly selective with the roles she takes. If the part sits well with her spirit, she takes it. So far, this approach has worked out well for Letitia and it's what led her to her new lead role in the biopic The Silent Twins, scheduled to be released in the United States and United Kingdom in September.
Letitia plays June Gibbons, the twin sister to Jennifer, played by co-star Tamara Lawrence. As the daughters of Barbadian immigrants, and the only Black family in a small town in Whales, the sisters faced racism and isolation as children. With the public shunning them due to their race, June and Jennifer retreated to the safety they found within each other.
While their stories are not the same, Letitia could relate to the Caribbean immigrant story since she and he family also moved to the United Kingdom from Guyana. Letitia had a deep interest in psychology – which she studied in college – and was intrigued with the human mind. So, she threw herself into the sisters' story. In an interview with Deadline, Letitia describes the sisters' experience as "a tragic story, and one of loss and heartbreak, but one of incredible misunderstanding."
Despite her rising fame, the break-out actress remains humble and grounded. And like those who came before her, Letitia would like to 'lay a foundation' for Black women in Hollywood to succeed.