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Mentorship program takes 100 kids to 'Black Panther' screening

Posted at 10:51 PM, Feb 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-17 00:55:54-05

CINCINNATI -- As a mentor with the DAD Initiative, which works to connect young black boys with positive male role models, Tyran Stallings knew Marvel's newest superhero movie, "Black Panther," was an opportunity for more than a fun night out. It was a special chance to further the organization's mission.

That's why he and other mentors escorted a group of more than 100 children to a screening of the flick -- the first entry in Marvel's decade-long series of interconnected superhero films to feature a black protagonist and majority-black cast of supporting heroes. Buying tickets and snacks cost the organization a few grand, but Stallings said that didn't matter.

"You can't put a dollar amount on positivity and the growth of our youth," he said Thursday night. "This movie is really changing a lot of things."

The titular Black Panther's alter-ego is T'Challa, a young man who becomes king of the fictional African nation Wakanda after his father's death. Over the course of the story, T'Challa combats both internal and external threats to his country and loved ones while learning what it means to be a responsible leader for his people.

Naturally, the journey involves a super-suit, an archvillain and car chases.

The bare bones might sound a lot like many other superhero movies -- Thor, for one, also struggles with kingship -- but "Black Panther" is suffused from start to finish with celebrations of black and African culture. Kendrick Lamar produced the soundtrack; all of the characters wear natural hairstyles; and the colorful dress of Wakandan people incorporates a wide variety of African traditional styles. 

Wakanda itself, as some film critics have pointed out, is an Afrofuturist fantasy: A resource-rich African country that was never colonized or oppressed by outsiders and whose people have been able to use its most important resource, vibranium, to create incredible technological achievements.

Although T'Challa's journey involves bringing his isolationist country into the global community and forming new partnerships with the outside, neither he nor any of the other Wakandans are willing to compromise on their own self-worth or their fierce cultural pride.

"Everyone's used to seeing white superheroes, so it means a lot," said 15-year-old Lamario Mitchell, one of the boys who saw the film Thursday night. 

"(T'Challa) can be a great role model to people," 17-year-old Tariq Stallings added. "He can show kids you can do anything you want to do, any career you want to go into and make whatever you want to make."

Quante Ferguson, another mentor, said he hoped that positive self-image was students' main takeaway from the film. He wants black youth who see it to be inspired and know that "anything within reach is obtainable."

The DAD Initiative's outing was one of many across the country meant to enable young black audiences to see the movie.

Kendrick Lamar's label paid for 1,000 tickets; Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta sent its students; GoFundMe campaigns have been started to raise ticket money.

Although some might not understand the excitement, the entry of a black superhero into the mainstream consciousness -- escorted by a black writer and director and 98 percent "fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes, no less -- is "a watershed in cultural history of African Americans," according to Miami Herald writer Leonard Pitts Jr. 

Don't believe it? Check out #WakandaCameToSlay on Twitter, where fans are sporting their best Wakandan style. This is an event. The DAD Initiative believes it can be a deeply meaningful one.