When Kristen Thompson and Keesha Reynolds created their Facebook event page, the goal was simple: Organize an outing for them and a group of friends to see “Black Panther” on opening night.
“I knew a lot of my friends were wanting to go see this movie,” says Thompson, 35, of Charlotte. “So I was just like, ‘Hey, let’s all go at the same time, and let’s put it on Facebook so we won’t forget.’ I made it public. I didn’t realize it was gonna be shared that many times. It started off with maybe 50 different people, and now there’s almost 10,000 people saying that they’re interested in going.”
Another “Black Panther”-related event in Charlotte, called “The Official Blackest Weekend Ever” on Facebook (more on that later), shows 13,000-plus people interested.
And while there’s no definite explanation for how these Facebook events went viral, one could probably make an educated guess.
Even though it doesn’t open until Friday (with early screenings nationwide Thursday night), “Black Panther” – the latest installment in the Disney-Marvel comic-book movie franchise – has become a pop-cultural phenomenon of epic proportions, for some pretty historic and progressive reasons.
It’s the first major superhero movie starring a black actor since 2008’s “Hancock.” But unlike that Will Smith flick, “Black Panther” features a nearly all-black cast (including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o), and was helmed by a critically acclaimed African-American director (Ryan Coogler, of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” fame).
Sure, 1993’s “The Meteor Man” (which starred Robert Townsend), 1994’s “Blankman” (Damon Wayans) and the “Blade” trilogy (Wesley Snipes) featured black superheroes. But the color of their skin seemed rather incidental. “Black Panther,” meanwhile, revels in its blackness – or, more specifically, its African-ness: The hero, played by Boseman, is heir to the throne of a secretive (and fictional) African country that happens to be one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world.
And to top it all off? The movie is fantastic – exquisitely acted and directed, with thrilling action and surprising emotional heft, full of cultural pride but devoid of racism. As of Tuesday night, 97 percent of the “Black Panther” reviews logged by aggregator site RottenTomatoes.com were favorable.
It’s reason enough for people like Kristen Thompson to turn going to see the movie into an event. It’s inspired several people in her group, she says, to make plans to wear patterns and outfits inspired by traditional African clothing to screenings, as several “Black Panther” stars did at the L.A. premiere last month.
The film even inspired a viral fundraising initiative called the Black Panther Challenge. Started last month by New York City-based marketing executive and philanthropist Frederick Joseph, it’s a crowdfunding effort to take Harlem children to see the film, and it has spawned hundreds of similar efforts nationwide – to the tune of a reported $300,000 and climbing.
Suggs says the effect the film could have on black youth could be tremendous: “With this type of hero, they’ll see somebody doing something for someone else, for the greater good. That allows our young males and females to say, ‘Hey, it’s not just about me making it just to make it, it’s about me making it so I can see what type of impact I can make on others in the community around me in a positive way.’ ”
His goal of $5,000 could send hundreds of kids to “Black Panther,” although he realizes if his group gets to that size, they may have to wait a little while to go.
“We’re shooting for the third weekend to do something here in Charlotte, because it’s gonna be pretty hectic the first two weekends.”
Indeed, if you haven’t purchased advance tickets to see “Black Panther,” it’d probably be wise to consider it if you’re hoping to see it in the next few days. Variety reported that industry tracking suggests the film could open to as much as $170 million at the box office in North America: That’s way above initial forecasts and would mean a new all-time record for Presidents Day weekend. (The record is currently held by another superhero movie – 2016’s “Deadpool,” starring Ryan Reynolds.)
Online ticketing service Fandango says advance sales for “Black Panther” are higher than any other first-quarter release in the company’s 18-year history.
“We’re currently living in the age of empowerment,” says Fandango.com managing editor Erik Davis, “and audiences for the last few years have been demanding more films from women, starring women, as well as more diversity in their casts, both in front of and behind the camera. So ‘Black Panther’ is landing at a time when audiences are desperate for this kind of movie to come out and make a big statement, and I think that’s why they’re rallying around it and helping elevating it. ... It’s sending a clear sign to Hollywood: that the future needs to look differently on the big screen.”
(Davis himself was so inspired by the movie, he says, that right after seeing it, he made a donation to a Black Panther Challenge campaign.)
What makes this unique, though, is the fact that – unlike most movies with all-black casts and a black director – “Black Panther” is predicted to be irresistible to non-black audiences. That’s because it’s a key part of what’s known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a series of now 18 films dating back to 2008’s “Iron Man.” The latest, 2017’s “Thor: Ragnorak,” became the 14th of those movies to eclipse $500 million in global box-office returns.
“If you’re a Marvel head, you can’t not see this film,” says Monica Palmer, a longtime comic-book fan who helped organized a buy-out of a 7 p.m. screening of “Black Panther” at Starlight on Thursday night for 147 members of the Zeta Beta Phi Sorority in Charlotte. “Anyone who misses it is gonna be lost on the significance (of the character) when the next Marvel film comes out. So, frankly, even if they don’t want to see it, they are going to see it.”
But what then? What happens after the credits roll and people walk out of the theater? If it’s a blockbuster hit, maybe others in Hollywood follow its lead. But will anything have changed?
Charlotte native Tiffany Fant hopes so. But she recognizes that the movie alone can’t do all the work, and so when she saw it coming down the pipe last year, she envisioned it as a long-term community-building opportunity.
The 38-year-old consultant and community organizer and her business partner Nakisa Glover have been working feverishly this week to finalize plans for “The Official Blackest Weekend Ever.” The three-day event will feature a variety of parties, a vendor fair, live music, a pep rally, a fish fry, two private screenings of “Black Panther,” and – perhaps most importantly to Fant – something they’re calling the “Wakanda Wind Down Brunch.” (Wakanda is the name of the African nation in “Black Panther.”)
“After we’ve had a good time, after we’ve celebrated culture, we want to talk about how do we continue to move forward with this energy and create some of the sustainable changes that we need to see in Charlotte within our community?” she says. “So it’s definitely about entertainment and fun, but also serving as a catalyst to start talking about the issues and mobilizing people in helping create the change that we need to see.”
And just for the record, “The Official Blackest Weekend Ever” is open to everyone.
“Celebrate this culture just like you would the Chinese New Year, or the Greek Festival, or the Indian Festival,” Fant says. “We’re celebrating culture. Come learn about our culture. Come celebrate it, just like you would anything else. Don’t feel like you can’t come because the word ‘blackest’ is in it. That is not referencing the attendees.”