Arts, Local

‘Atlanta Is Wakanda’: Nonprofit Meets #BlackPantherChallenge

At the Movie Tavern Northlake on Tuesday, Black Panther and his mom Ramonda were in costume for students to take photos with them.
At the Movie Tavern Northlake on Tuesday, Black Panther and his mom Ramonda were in costume for students to take photos with them.
Credit Tasnim Shamma / WABE
Audio version of this story here.

More than 700 students from about a dozen Atlanta and DeKalb County high schools watched “Black Panther” for free Tuesday.

Organizers with an Atlanta nonprofit, the Phoenix Leadership Foundation, rented out the Movie Tavern Northlake and gave students free popcorn, soda and lunch.

Drummers in colorful African dashikis and head ties welcomed students to Wakanda as they stepped off charter buses. Wakanda is the fictional African nation in “Black Panther.”

Inside, there were more drummers, dancers and Black Panther in costume.

Student Reactions

More than 700 students from DeKalb and Atlanta Public Schools attended a special screening of “Black Panther” at the Northlake Movie Tavern. Several students danced inside the theater as well to welcome high school students to the event. (Tasnim Shamma/WABE)
More than 700 students from DeKalb and Atlanta Public Schools attended a special screening of “Black Panther” at the Movie Tavern Northlake. Several students danced inside the theater as well to welcome high school students to the event. (Tasnim Shamma/WABE)

After watching the movie, many students said they were inspired to do better in school, stand up to bullies and fight for marginalized groups.

Fifteen-year-old Caleb Morris attends Cedar Grove High School. He calls himself a Marvel Comics geek.

“I might go outside and, you know, flip like Black Panther,” Caleb said. “It empowered me to stand up for myself and stand up for my kingdom.”

He said he enjoyed the diversity of the characters.

“You see the different superheroes working with each other, and it brings a lot of messages like women rights and African-American rights,” Caleb said.

Jay Bailey organized the special screening. He’s founder of the Phoenix Leadership Foundation with his wife Blayne Alexander.

‘Atlanta Is Wakanda’

The DeKalb Entertainment Commission led discussions before and after the special screening of “Black Panther.” (Tasnim Shamma/WABE)
The DeKalb Entertainment Commission led discussions before and after the special screening of “Black Panther.” (Tasnim Shamma/WABE)

Bailey wore a sweatshirt that read “Atlanta Is Wakanda,” referencing the fictional African country.

“With Atlanta’s demographics being as they are, what better city to really start an images-matter movement?” Bailey said. “It’s going on all over the country. There’s all kinds of energy around this movie, but Atlanta absolutely had to be at the center of it.”

Bailey said more than 650 individual donors pitched in to raise the $30,000 needed to cover the costs of the event. He said he wanted to meet the national #BlackPantherChallenge, which includes raising money to give disadvantaged students opportunities to see the film.

“You never know what will happen when you put a kid in an environment to dream. I tell the story of Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space. She got her motivation from ‘Star Trek’ when she saw Lt. Uhura on the screen,” Bailey said. “A movie like this — a big-budget film — with kings and princes and queens and leaders in technology and science and math and wealth, to have those images of people of color on the big screen. Images matter.”

Female Empowerment

Washington High School student Liberty Jones was one of many students who said she was inspired by seeing so many women of color in powerful roles in the movie.

“I’m going to be working hard toward my education and what I want to be when I get older because, right now, I don’t think I’m pushing myself as hard as I can push myself,” Liberty said.

The DeKalb County Entertainment Commission pitched in $1,500 toward the event, and the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce also pitched in $1,000 to cover the cost of giveaways, like bags and lanyards for the students.

The movie, which was released Friday, has broken records and projections as the second-biggest four-day opener of all time at the domestic box office with $242.1 million in sales, according to the website Deadline.