“Exceptional,” was the word used by Dyett High School freshman Cameron Guyce on Monday, to describe the film that’s all the rage: Black Panther.
His fellow Dyett student, sophomore Ladosha Bonner, added: “It had a good concept behind it. It shows that we really can fight for what we want, and we really do believe we can come together as a people, and just be so great!”
By “we,” Bonner, an African-American student, was referring to people that look like her — she had just seen a rare film filled with those actors.
The two teens were among about 300 Chicago Public Schools students treated to a President’s Day screening of Marvel’s newest superhero film breaking multiple box office records.
Enthusiastic response to the film from people of color, both domestically and internationally, sizzled on social media over the weekend, as “we” collectively exhaled from the fresh breath of air embodied in a film with a primarily all-black cast in primarily all-positive images, set against an albeit fictional but wonderfully rare depiction of an advanced African civilization.
Before the CPS students saw it, the film had already grossed $201.7 million through Sunday in North America, and $169 million outside of the U.S., according to Disney. That made it the fifth-largest movie opening of all time; the biggest opening ever for a film with an African-American director — Ryan Coogler — and the biggest opening ever for a film released in February.
And across the nation, organizations and individuals rallied to make sure our youth got to see this sensation — a depiction of a world ruled by people that look like them and are intellectually, environmentally, technologically, militarily self-sufficient. And oh yeah, beyond one-dimensional in emotions and conflicts.
“Representation is very important. You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Troy Pryor, founder and president of Creative Cypher, a Chicago-based collective of artists and entertainment professionals working to promote diversity in the film industry.
His group and the Black McDonald’s Operators Association (BMOA), sponsored the student screening, and popcorn of course, at the black-owned Studio Movie Grill in Chatham.
“This movie is not only amazing because of the numbers it has already pulled in, but also because it dispels a lot of myths in Hollywood, like, how you can’t make a successful film with a black cast,” Pryor said. “Beyond the numbers, the cultural significance is going to change the game. There needs to be more people of color in executive roles. This movie would not have happened were it not for Ryan Coogler and his amazing cast and crew. We wanted to show youth the value of having roles like this, both in front of and behind the camera.”
The teens came from 20 nonprofit youth organizations, including Donda’s House, Common Ground Foundation, Free Spirit Media, True Star Foundation, Free Lunch Academy, We Are MURAL, Chicago Scholars, etc., selected for their grades and community-mindedness.
“I loved everything about it, the visuals, the soundtrack, the messaging,” said Kaianna Law, a senior at The Noble Academy.
“I liked how they promoted unity, over divisions,” said Kandisha Henderson, a senior at Providence St. Mel.
“I really enjoyed the messages about incorporating everyone into your community,” said Yazmin Lopez, a senior at Solorio Academy.
Ariel Toran, a senior at Uplift Community High School, expressed gratitude that those coming behind her will have “new role models to look up to, a different Hollywood.” But she also loved the portrayal of an advanced African civilization “connected to their ancestors” and the messages about relationships between Africans and African-Americans.
“I picked up on all those messages,” Toran said of what clearly is a monumental film to people of color, released during Black History Month and destined to go down in the annals of Black History.
Toran picked up on them as an African-American girl.
I picked up on them as an African-American woman Nigerian-born.
I picked up on Coogler’s strong statement on devastation caused by colonization on the Mother Continent; on continuing reverberations through its ruinous civil wars between tribes; on stereotypical perceptions and dichotomy marring the relationship between Africans and African Americans.
But Coogler has made a strong statement, too, about unity among peoples of color; a need to fight to keep our communities vibrant and intact; the significance of women to our culture.
And he has done it in a way that has sparked pride among all peoples of color in its dream that is Africa.
By “we,” Bonner, the Dyett sophomore, was referring to African-Americans. But she may as well have been referring to people of color globally.