Black Panther is bigger than a movie.
It’s also a movement. Because when you’re black and live in a country in which President Trump has referred to Haiti and African nations as “s— holes,” and expressed a preference for immigrants from Norway, it feels really good to disappear for a couple of hours into Wakanda, the fictitious setting for Black Panther.
So, while it may be a film about a black superhero, there’s so much more to it than that.
I won’t give it all away, but trust me when I say that every kid in Philly needs to see this film. No, make that every kid in America. That’s why I helped organize Friday’s screening on behalf of the Philadelphia Media Network’s Newspapers in Education program and the startup Editors on Call. We treated about 250 kids at the United Artists Riverview Theater. I wish we could have taken the entire school district.
I’m happy to report that other folks are doing the same thing. Comedian Buck Wild posted a video of himself on Instagram last week asking for donations so he could rent out a theater for neighborhood kids in North Philly. He also got busy working the phones. It didn’t take long before he had gathered all the financial assistance he needed from the likes of Greg Parker, a North Philly-based real estate investor and Camden native Haason Reddick of the Arizona Cardinals among others.
Earlier this month, members of the hip hop/rap group Salt-N-Pepa, and the duo Kindred the Family Soul helped underwrite local screenings organized by Mister Mann Frisby, a former Daily News reporter. Jamina Clay, principal of Bethune Elementary in North Philly, started a GoFundMe so she could take her students. It took less than 24 hours for her to rake in even more than she’d asked for.
A national #BlackPantherChallenge on GoFundMe raised $725,000 to take kids to see it. The film’s star, Chadwick Boseman, rented a theater in his hometown, Anderson, S.C.; actress Octavia Spencer did the same thing in Mississippi.
“Representation matters. We want to put images in front of our children that look like them,” Clay, the principal, told me. “It empowers them. It makes them feel like ‘I can achieve. I can do. I can be.’ It gives them something to aspire to. Not that our kids are going to aspire to be black superheroes, but … you have these images that are, like, powerful.”
“You have little girls who are always worried about their hair. Now you have characters on screen that have short, beautiful, natural hair and it says it’s OK.” She hopes the movie expands “beyond the movie,” with all the marketing and merchandising resonating so children see images that look like them.
“It also speaks volumes when the movie is centered around an African country that is technologically superior when we have so many negative images and negative commentary being made about African countries,” she continued, referring to Trump’s “s—hole” remark. “The commander-in-chief is referring to African nations as that, and you have a movie that shows a technologically advanced African country as superior — which they were before western colonization and influences.”
It was a great move by Marvel Studios to release the movie during Black History Month. The world has been needing something like this. Frankly I don’t really want to sit through another movie depicting blacks as downtrodden slaves. I’ve seen enough of those.
Black Panther uplifts because it shows blacks thriving and being technologists and kings. The women are savvy, spear-toting badasses who fight side by side with men. They don’t cower in high heels waiting to be rescued. During Friday’s screening at United Artists Riverview Plaza, I did a fist-pump in my theater seat after I heard one little girl call out, “Go ‘head, sis!” during one fight scene. The kids get it. They really do.
“It’s kind of about black people fighting back against the oppression that they’ve endured for all of these years,” said Cameron Bradley, 14, from the Sharon Hill School in Delco.
Way more moviegoers than expected showed up Friday at Buck Wild’s free screening. So he will host another one Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the AMC North Broadstreet 7 at Broad and Oxford streets. (Get there no later than 6 p.m. to make sure you get a seat.)
“I never saw no black superheroes when I was small,” he told me last week. “I was looking at The Brady Bunch. I was looking at Little House on the Prairie. There was nothing for me. There was nothing I could identify with.”
Parker, who helped fund both screenings, agreed.
“My superheroes were the worst people in society,” Parker recalled. “But that’s all we had, that’s all we knew, the guys in our neighborhood who we could look up to … My dad was a drug dealer. I learned how to sell drugs at home.”
If kids can learn to sell drugs and do other negative things because of what they see at home or in their neighborhoods, they can also be spurred to greatness, too, by what they see. That’s why Black Panther is a must-see. So, kudos to those renting buses, organizing private screenings, and doing what it takes for kids to see this. It’s an investment in our future.