Local events highlight the impact of ‘Black Panther’

Regional campaigns promote Marvel’s first African-American superhero.

Poster courtesy of Marvel Studios

There’s an Enter Wakanda pop-up bar opening in D.C. A watch party sponsored by the Arlington Young Democrats. And efforts throughout the region to get the film in front of the eyes of black youth.

The premiere of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther is stirring up excitement in NoVA and across the country. The movie—opening Feb. 16 and led by Marshall actor Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther with an all-star cast including Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and Sterling K. Brown—stars Marvel Comic’s first black superhero, who originally appeared in print in 1966. Set in the fictional East African nation of Wakanda, the movie follows T’Challa (Black Panther) who leads and protects the nation.

The film allows American black youth to see someone who looks like them on the big screen, the motivation behind activist Frederick Joseph’s #BlackPantherChallenge. Joseph, a New York-based marketing consultant, created the challenge for a local Boys and Girls Club in Harlem in an effort to raise $10,000 for children from the club to see the movie. Through a social media campaign, Joseph received support from celebrities such as former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, actress Viola Davis and rappers Snoop Dogg and T.I., raising nearly five times his goal and inspiring hundreds of spin-off efforts. Crowdfunding site GoFundMe lists more than 400 #BlackPantherChallenge campaigns nationwide, bringing in more than $400,000.

That excitement has reached Virginia, with #BlackPantherChallenges in Culpeper and Richmond and charitable screenings planned throughout the region. The nonprofit S.E.L.F., an acronym for Smile, Elevate, Live and Forgive, has teamed up with Paragon Village 12 in Fredericksburg to offer a free screening of the movie on Feb. 22 for local youth in honor of Black History Month. The nonprofit, whose aim is to provide a safe and secure environment for children, was founded by business partners LaToya White and Broadway Harris.

White, a fashion designer and single mother, says representation is important for African-American youth. “I see the impact that it has on my boys when they see movie previews. They want to engage,” she says. “They think, ‘If he can be a superhero, why can’t I?’” The pair also has organized a pre-film discussion with guest speakers on the importance of finding your purpose.

Variety: The Children’s Charity of the National Capital Region is hosting a screening at AMC Courthouse Plaza 8 in Arlington in partnership with the Children’s National Health System on Feb. 15. Funds collected will support the Pediatric Rehabilitation Research Program at Children’s National, which aims to help children with mobility issues in the DMV area. And in Fairfax, George Mason University’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Multicultural Education and its Housing and Residence Life office have organized a Comic-Con-style event for Feb. 15 at which students can win tickets to a film screening.

In a recent Huffington Post article, Joseph elaborated on his steadily growing campaign. “The Black Panther release and this challenge will come and go,” he writes.

“Long after that, I hope the experience will continue to spark conversations and debates about representation, not only for black children, but for all children of color, women and the LGBTQ community.”