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The Panther: A Superhero for Black Youth

Children from several District-based elementary and middle schools found themselves treated to a private screening of a popular new film at a movie theater in Northwest – and the excitement it evoked became evident in the words they shared after seeing Marvel’s “Black Panther.”

The screening, held on Sunday, Feb. 18 at the AMC Mazza Gallerie in Friendship Heights, allowed several dozen students from the U.S. Dream Academy, an after-school and mentoring program located throughout the U.S. with local campuses in Southeast and Baltimore, the opportunity to see a new Black superhero – one that has something rarely in common with each child – their Black skins.

Academy officials partnered with Monarch Magazine, with headquarters in Northwest, for a nationwide social media initiative, #BlackPantherChallenge, that secured donations from celebrities and community leaders alike, so children of color could witness the movie, featuring an all-Black cast, for free – even enjoying tasty treats from the theater’s concession stand.

William Walters, publisher and founder of the District-based Monarch Magazine, said he wished there had been a superhero who looked like him during his youth.

“During my childhood in the ’80’s, we’d dive into comic books with heroes like Batman and Ironman who were the only characters we had and whom we could hope to be like when we grew up. Today, I’m elated to see a film that features heroes who look like me and our youth. Maybe they can’t run or jump like Black Panther, but they can think like him. They can take advantage of educational opportunities that can unlock doors once closed to people of color,” said Walters, an Ohio native and University of Akron alum who has since moved to the District.

Many of the young moviegoers, like Aniyah Stewart and Jeremiah Wilson, both 11, pointed out with great exuberance that before Black Panther, they’d never seen or heard about a Black superhero.

Patricia Barnes Brookes, assistant to the Academy’s founder and CEO, Whitley Phipps, said she hopes that there will be more films like “Black Panther” that may serve as an inspiration for their students, the majority of whom are children of incarcerated parents.

Youth participating in the U.S. Dream Academy were selected to attend a premiere of Black Panther at the Majestic Theater in Northwest on Sunday, Feb. 18. Guy Lambert (center), WPGC-95.5 news host, led a discussion with the youth after viewing the film. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
Youth participating in the U.S. Dream Academy were selected to attend a premiere of Black Panther at the Majestic Theater in Northwest on Sunday, Feb. 18. Guy Lambert (center), WPGC-95.5 news host, led a discussion with the youth after viewing the film. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

Youth shared their reactions about the movie in a talkback session hosted by WPGC Radio personality Guy Lambert at the film’s conclusion.

“Because it’s celebrating Black History Month,” Anyiah said.

“I love Black people and this is about Black Power,” Jeremiah exclaimed.

When Lambert asked how it felt to see an African American play a lead role as a superhero, he received the following responses.

Ajana Goins, a seventh-grader at Stuart Hobson Middle School: “It made me feel like I can anything and that my race doesn’t matter.”

Jervale Garrett, a student at Johnson Middle School, added he liked the way “Black Panther never stopped fighting for his culture, his people or his country.”

Meanwhile, with the film’s inclusion of intelligence and powerful women of color, Asjiana Lindsay of DC Kipp Academy volunteered her perspective.

“It made me feel like as a young lady, women can do as much as men can – even if some men feel like women aren’t as powerful as them.”

Brookes shared more about the importance of there being more films like “Black Panther” that challenge current stereotypes about Black men and women.

“I want the young girls and boys to realize that anything is possible, that they are beautiful even though they do not have straight hair,” she said. “I want them to understand that being light or dark has nothing to do with their beauty and that they’re made like God desires.”

Lambert echoed her views in his comments to the youth.

“I want each of you to believe in yourselves,” he said. “I want you to know that you too can thrive and excel and be the best that you can be.”

WI Editor D. Kevin McNeir contributed to and edited this article.

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