The Grassroots Outreach Around 'Black Panther' is Unprecedented for Marvel

Marvel Entertainment

There is an awesome power in representation, one more powerful than Vibranium. Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Snowpiercer) has become the latest individual to sponsor a screening of Marvel’s highly-anticipated Black Panther for underserved communities. Few Marvel movies have inspired this kind of grassroots organizing, which only speaks to how important T’Challa’s story will be for the world.

On Wednesday, Spencer used an Instagram post to reveal that she will be in Mississippi the weekend Black Panther hits theaters. “I think I will buy out a theatre in an underserved community there to ensure that all our brown children can see themselves as a superhero,” she wrote. “I will let you know where and when Mississippi. Stay tuned.”

Though Spencer, who starred in Black Panther director Ryan Coogler’s 2013 drama Fruitvale Station, hasn’t picked a specific place in Mississippi, it is certainly a state deserving of her charity. According to 2017 data from Talk Poverty, 20.8 percent of all Mississippians live below the poverty line while 5.8 percent are unemployed.

Around the world, the #BlackPantherChallenge, which began in the fall of 2017 by a Harlem marketing consultant and activist named Frederick Joseph, have inspired people to raise funds to buy screenings of Black Panther for children in troubled communities. The challenge has reached beyond New York and into places like London, Philadelphia, Austin, the Virgin Islands, Jersey City, Ontario, Columbus, Ohio, and New Haven, Connecticut.

For many people, Black Panther is the rare mainstream superhero blockbuster that portrays a majestic image of Africa and black royalty. Although hardcore fans point to the Wesley Snipes movie Blade as the originator of the modern superhero movie, the story of a vampire hunter isn’t as socially significant as the warrior-king of an African nation that was never colonized. Though many superhero movies are more diverse than ever — including Saban’s Power Rangers, Wonder Woman, and even Thor: RagnarokBlack Panther resonates as an African story through the lens of a big budget superhero movie.

“This representation is truly fundamental for young people,” Joseph wrote in the information page of his GoFundMe campaign, “especially those who are often underserved, unprivileged, and marginalized both nationally and globally.

Last week, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres took over Joseph’s efforts, allowing the original $42,000 raised to fund a new arts program at the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem. “[N]ow we have the opportunity to give those young people access to tell their own stories,” added Joseph after his appearance on Ellen.

Marvel’s Black Panther will be released on February 16.