With the huge success of Marvel’s Black Panther, there’s been a lot of talk about the representation of people of color in the MCU — with a particular amount of attention being placed on Princess Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. Audiences were introduced to a young, black, genius woman making massive strides in STEM with her amazing suit designs, gadget construction, and a tech lab that could rival Tony Stark's.
Following the success of Black Panther, Shuri has become a beacon for young girls interested in science and technology. However, Shuri isn’t the only black woman of the MCU doing major things, and she’s absolutely not the first.
Before Black Panther, there was another Marvel film featuring a black female genius: 1998’s Blade. While Blade is well-known for creating Marvel’s biggest blockbuster trilogy featuring a black lead actor, many people forget the film also featured Dr. Karen Jenson (N’bushe Wright), a hematologist who used her medical degree and determination to not only aid Blade but save vampire-bitten humans as well.
At the beginning of Blade, we’re introduced to Dr. Jenson when she's attacked by a badly burned vampire named Quinn, sealing her fate of turning into a vampire. Though Blade (Wesley Snipes) takes pity on her and brings her back to the lair he shares with his vampire-slaying partner, Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), both men warn Karen she will only have about three days before turning into their enemy.
Upon hearing this, Karen is determined to cure herself, shrugging off Blade and Whistler’s talk that her efforts might be fruitless, and actually puts her mind to the task. In a matter of 72 hours, Karen is able to create a cure for herself using her know-how on blood in anemic patients, and thus comes up with a way for vampires changed via a bite to return to their human selves.
In addition to healing herself, Karen was also able to use her knowledge to engineer a biochemical weapon to kill vampires on the cellular level. This weapon became very handy towards the end of the film when Blade’s enemy, Deacon Frost, would not be killed by Blade’s silver-crafted sword, but from the needle-tipped vials filled with the blue liquid Karen cooked up.
While there’s no real mention of Karen in Blade II, it appears her work had its lasting effects. When Blade seeks out his friend Whistler and learns he has been transformed into a vampire, he provides his friend with an antidote, no doubt created by Karen.
In the first film, Karen is tasked with the job of making the vampire hunter a more effective serum to suppress the bloodlust of “thirst” he had from being a human-vampire hybrid. And it seems as though she was able to rise to the occasion as it would take several years (and two more films) before Blade would try a new and improved serum in Blade Trinity (crafted by Sommerfield, another brilliant female chemist, and geneticist).
In the same way many MCU fans have lovingly declared Marvel’s Blade walked so Black Panther (the second MCU film with a Black actor lead) could run, the same could be said about Karen and Shuri.