Welcome to the aftermath: Black Panther came, saw and conquered as one of the highest grossing films of all time ($1.3 billion and counting). In cinematic history, only two films are bigger (Avatar and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), putting the lie to the Hollywood party line that movies with black casts can’t compete as mainstream films. Even adjusting for inflation, director Ryan Coogler and company (Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown and breakout heartthrob Winston Duke) took Afrofuturism to the silver screen with ticket sales competitive with everything from the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises to its fellow films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But its ramifications in the African-American community turn out to be even larger than those bragging rights.
As previously reported at The Root, marketing exec Frederick Joseph launched a GoFundMe campaign back in January, meant to raise $10,000 for kids at the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem to see Black Panther. This created a snowball effect that ultimately resulted in the Walt Disney Company announcing a $1 million donation of the film’s profits to STEM programs for the Boys & Girls Club of America. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.)
Crowdfunders from far and wide—including Snoop Dogg, Viola Davis and Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman—promoted the #BlackPantherChallenge all over social media, far exceeding Joseph’s original goal by raising over $52,000. The Boys & Girls Club of Harlem, under director Dominique Jones, serves over 1,000 local youth between the ages of 6 and 18. The organization’s overall goals comprise positive community outreach, instilling academic excellence, and promoting personal health and wellness values. The Black Panther screening enabled the Harlem’s branch of this national organization to send children of color to see superheroic reflections of themselves in one of the most successful films in Hollywood history.
Joseph’s #BlackPantherChallenge spread like wildfire internationally, going viral after a February 15 appearance on The Ellen Show, far beyond the initial goal’s Harlem neighborhood: Philadelphia, Newark, Nashville, Toronto, Ghana… donations flowing in from all 50 states and 15 countries. Over 500 campaigns raised more than $902,000. The Ellen Show ultimately offered to pay for Boys & Girls Club of Harlem kids to attend a special screening at the Magic Johnson Theater on 125th Street in Harlem. All #BlackPantherChallenge proceeds were then funneled into the organization’s Storytellers Program, meant to “expose youth to media in all its forms and develop the stories they care about to the world.”
But the pièce de résistance came on February 27. Disney (distributor of Black Panther and owner of Marvel Studios) announced a $1 million contribution of the film’s profits to empower young people from marginalized communities by donating to STEM programs at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. In a direct through-line from Frederick Joseph’s original initiative meant to benefit local Harlem youth, now children from nationwide Boys & Girls Clubs stand to profit from Disney’s pledge.
“It’s fitting that we show our appreciation by helping advance STEM programs for youth, especially in underserved areas of the country, to give them knowledge and tools to build the future they want,” Disney chief executive Robert A. Iger said in a statement. Boys & Girls Clubs of America intends to direct the funds to new STEM innovation centers in 12 cities, including Oakland, Atlanta, Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles and Memphis. In a mirror of the film’s ending, where (spoiler alert) the Black Panther puts his sister Shuri in charge of a technological global outreach program in Oakland, life imitates art in the best possible way—Black Panther allowing for new computer science and digital literacy programs in the black community. Wakanda forever!