How “Black Panther” is Promoting Youth Empowerment

The film Black Panther, part of the Marvel Comics Universe, is breaking global cinema records beyond expectation, and influential figures are taking notice about the positive messages young people can derive from this movie. Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States, took to Twitter to express her gratitude to the Black Panther production team for their depiction of an African superhero who young people can truly look up to on many levels.

* Hollywood star Chadwick Boseman, who plays the titular role of King T’Challa, the Black Panther of Wakanda, personally purchased more than 300 tickets for young residents of his South Carolina hometown to enjoy the film at a local theater; these are predominantly African American children of economically disadvantaged families who are rarely able to afford feature movie tickets.

* In Canada, the Youth Empowerment Group of Edmonton partnered with a political action organization to purchase 100 Black Panther tickets for children of disadvantaged families.

* In New York, the Police Athletic League of Buffalo worked with the Mayor, two judges and one legislator to ensure that young African American residents could catch a screening of the film by purchasing advanced tickets.

* In Chicago, hip-hop artist Vic Mensa linked up with a bus line owned by an African American business group so that local youth could travel in style to watch the premiere of Black Panther in the Windy City.

* In Kentucky, student groups and comic book enthusiasts are working together to raise funds for the purpose of obtaining tickets for Louisville youth who would otherwise have to wait years to catch Black Panther on television.

* In Florida, teachers at Jefferson High School near Tampa organized a field trip to take students to watch the film.

Teachers in the United States are creating lesson plans based on the Black Panther character and storyline created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966. Lee was inspired by the dime store novels he read as a young man growing up in New York; he was fascinated by stories about ancient African kingdoms in the regions of Ghana, Mali, Nubia, and Abyssinia. In one of those books, Lee was captivated by a character who had tamed and trained a black panther as a warring companion; he was also aware of the 761st Tank Battalion of the United States Army, a segregated African American unit that fought heroically during World War II. Lee paid close attention to the fighting spirit of the American Civil Rights movement, and he wanted to create a warrior king superhero whose personal story could be molded to include political themes of fighting colonialism, oppression and racism.

In the beginning, Lee wanted a storyline to describe the origin of “vibranium,” the rare element that powers Captain America’s shield through the impossible absorption of kinetic energy. Later, King T’Challa, who had to earn the title of Black Panther through warrior and mystical training, would be a romantic interest to Ororo Munroe, a Kenyan orphan better known as the mutant Storm of the X-Men. As the Black Panther story matured, King T’Challa had to deal with complex issues such as tribal warfare, pitting monarchy against democracy, ruling an isolationist kingdom, dealing with diaspora disenfranchisement, and watching over the vibranium supply.

In the end, the topics of Afro-Futurism and pan-Africanism, which should be of great interest to young people around the world, are being reintroduced by the Black Panther film, and these are important lessons that can help cultivate empowerment.

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