All hail the king of Wakanda!
The opening of the highly-anticipated “Black Panther” film is still two weeks away, but it has generated excitement across New York City and the globe for its depiction of the fictional African nation and the fierce, proud people who live there.
Wakanda boasts the most cutting-edge technology and revered female warriors, a young woman genius/scientist and a king everyone can admire.
That inspiration is especially poignant with the start of Black History Month on Thursday.
“Representation matters,” said Jonathan W. Gray, an associate professor of English at John Jay College and the CUNY Graduate Center. “It matters, in part, because the kinds of stories we tell help shape the kind of society we are.”
Gray, who will speak about the movie’s impact during a Feb. 22 lecture at New York University, said T’Challa, the king of Wakanda, represents black excellence.
“He’s capable, he’s competent, he runs a country and he runs it well,” said Gray. “That’s not always recognized, so people are very excited even though he’s a fictional character.”
Fandango announced Wednesday the movie — directed by Ryan Coogler of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” fame — is making another kind of history. It outpaced all superhero movies in advance sales.
Enthusiasm for the latest film in the Marvel universe cuts across racial, ethnic, gender and generational lines. But it’s been especially sweet for communities of color who have waited generations to see a superhero who looks like them helm his own movie.
Frederick Joseph thought it was so important that youngsters see “Black Panther” that he started a GoFundMe campaign to take kids from the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem.
His efforts went viral, raising over $40,000 and sparking more than 200 similar campaigns throughout the city and the world which have raised over $160,000.
It even grabbed the attention of TV host Ellen DeGeneres, who featured Joseph and the Boys and Girls Club students on a recent show with “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman. She offered to pay for the kids to see the film so the donations could go toward other programming and services for them.
Joseph said he just found out the #BlackPantherChallenge is the largest campaign initiative for an entertainment event/experience in GoFundMe history.
“Giving kids of color an opportunity to see themselves represented in a positive light is something everybody can get behind,” said Joseph, a marketing consultant.
The tense political and racial climate makes the film’s message about a non-colonized African nation even more important, he said.
Wakanda, the most technologically advanced nation on the planet, is a direct rebuke to President Trump’s alleged disparaging remarks about some African nations.
“It’s really important this is happening during Black History Month, which often celebrates the past,” Joseph said. “This gives us a chance to celebrate the present and the future.”
The Black Panther character was created more than 50 years ago by comic legends Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.
Over the years, he took more of a background role until writers like Christopher Priest, Reginald Hudlin — and in more recent years Ta-Nehisi Coates — “pushed him forward,” according to Gray.
“I don’t think we are here without these three men recognizing and re-imagining him,” Gray said.
Athena Robinson, Shikwan Nathan and Matthew Nunez, who spend time at the Boys and Girls Club after school, said they couldn’t wait for their special movie trip.
“What makes it so exciting is we get to see a black person do amazing things with technology, sort of like Batman but different,” said Nathan, 14.
“I was amazed they were finally promoting a black person to be in such a big movie and be part of a big series like the Avengers series,” said 14-year-old Nunez. “It’s kind of amazing.”
Athena, 11, said she believes the film also shows an important message.
“If you work hard, anybody can do anything and we are all equal,” she said.
Dominique Jones, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem, said the momentum that started with the Black Panther Challenge and excitement around the movie will hopefully lead to more volunteers and opportunities for the kids.
“And that’s the biggest blessing,” she said.