ORLANDO — Audiences and critics are expecting big things from "Black Panther," the movie based on comic world's first black superhero. But a local effort is hoping the latest installment of Marvel Studios' multi-film saga can have an even deeper impact.
T.J. Legacy-Cole, founder of community activist organization Orange County Black Voice, has raised money to send more than 200 kids to see the black-led film this Saturday. "I think seeing black excellence of this magnitude on the big screen really can inspire our youth to do great things," said the Orlando resident.
The event is part of the #BlackPantherChallenge, a nationwide movement to get children into theaters to see the movie. People and organizations all over the country have raised money to buy tickets for screenings, including celebrities such as Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer.
"The minute they said they were going to make this movie, I had the idea for this fundrasier," said Legacy-Cole, 31. The activist used social media to drum up support from businesses and community leaders.
Black Panther debuted in the pages of Marvel's Fantastic Four comic book in 1966, created by writers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Known as T'Challa, Black Panther is the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, a country with advanced futuristic technology.
Julian Chambliss, a professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, uses superhero comic books in history and pop culture classes "as a marker of transformation of the broader narrative on race in United States." He views the story of Black Panther as a critique on colonialism.
"Many of the story elements are recognition of the cost of white colonial imperialist activity," he said. "It's an African country that's never been conquered by white people. It's an African country that is scientifically advanced."
The film stars Chadwick Boseman, who first played the character in "Captain America: Civil War" in 2016. "Black Panther" is the first Marvel movie to be directed by a black director, Ryan Coogler, and star a mostly black cast in leading roles. Though not the first superhero movie with a black lead, it is the first Marvel movie with a black title character since the studio launched its cinematic universe with 2008's "Iron Man."
Chambliss, who has a book on the Marvel Cinematic Universe due out next month, believes black representation on screen has the ability to provide longer-term dividends. "The imaginary is a potent tool for inspiring people," he said. "It's probably more empowering for younger students because their sense of self is being processed at some level."
"They will remember going to see this movie 10, 20 years from now," said Sandra Fatmi, president of United Foundation of Central Florida. She will be taking a group of teenagers to see the movie as part of Legacy-Cole's initiative. "It's important for us to empower and educate our children," she said.
Fatmi runs a mentorship program that focuses on high school students in Pine Hills. She says young African-Americans need more exposure to positive role models, citing one student who didn't believe she could become an attorney until she met a black lawyer.
"They still feel, in this day and age, that there are limitations because of the color of their skin," said Fatmi.
According to online ticket seller Fandango, the movie is set to outpace all other superhero movies in presale tickets ahead of its release this Friday, with more than 200 showings Thursday across Central Florida. Online aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which averages critical reviews, has the movie standing at a score of 97 percent, with critics such as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone raving, "You've never seen anything like it in your life."
"I think the enthusiasm for the Black Panther today has a lot to do with this idea of normalization of black excellence as opposed to the normalization of black deficiency," said Chambliss.
Black excellence is what Legacy-Cole is hoping to show his kids. "In the media, there are such negative depictions of African-Americans, especially with our president saying disparaging things about African countries," he said, referencing reports that President Donald Trump used a derogatory term when talking about certain countries during a meeting on immigration.
But Legacy-Cole sees an inspiration beyond the movie itself.
"It's about the black business leaders and the people of the community coming together to invest in youth and for the youth to know that," he said.