The Black Panther officially releases next Friday but efforts to provide tickets for free through the BLACK PANTHER Challenge are already underway. Photo: Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Marvel is clearly not hurting for attendance as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a money-making machine with its 17 movies generating over $13 billion globally. But the release of its newest superhero flick, Black Panther, has generated a grassroots movement in cities across the country and a trending hashtag as community members push for young children to see the movie that is set for release on February 16.

The #BlackPantherChallenge was started by Frederick Joseph, a philanthropist and media representation advocate, who tapped the crowdfunding circuit to raise money to send children to see the movie for free.

“Many of us yearned for the chance to be Batman or Superman, but only if he was black,” Joseph wrote in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post earlier this month. “‘Black Panther’ gives our children the chance to dream those dreams.”

“It combats comments like the president’s ‘shithole’ countries, a sentiment shared by too many other people in America. Director Ryan Coogler, who also brought us the powerful ‘Fruitvale Station’ and the triumphant ‘Creed,’ tells a story painted in blackness. It is black folks telling a black narrative through a black lens.”

Joseph’s effort has raised over $250,000 globally through over 200 campaigns in multiple countries. Long Beach is not untouched by the challenge.

Local artist, Senay Kenfe, started his own GoFundMe page with the simple goal of raising enough money to allow 50 kids from Central Long Beach to go to a showing of the movie for free. When he hit his initial goal he upped it to 100. Just days into his campaign, and with money trickling in, he said the time has come to be aggressive. He wants to hit 500.

Kenfe (left) is distributing the money to four local elementary schools in Central Long Beach, an area of the city hit hardest by poverty. The only stipulation he placed on his efforts is that the tickets go to low-income students.

“Why not use this opportunity to bring them somewhere positive and have them surrounded by positive things that can maybe make a good impression on at least one of them?” Kenfe said of the challenge. “To me, if at least one kid walks away from it saying ‘Wow, that was great, I got to see T’Challla come back to lead his people through this moment of evil’. If one kid can see that and say they want to do that for their community, it’s mission accomplished.”

This is not Kenfe’s first foray into donating funds to positive causes. He said he routinely sells his work at pop-up galleries with a lot of that money often ending up with the Lydia House, a women’s shelter hosted by the Long Beach Rescue Mission.
The four schools that are scheduled to benefit from the challenge (Lafayette, Whittier, Smith and Jackie Robinson elementary schools) are all in the city’s Sixth District where Kenfe lives. He said that the Black Panther differs from previous Marvel superheroes who’ve previously had stand-alone movies like Blade and Spawn in many meaningful ways.

He’s a king of an advanced civilization and his story is not one of a demon hell-bent on redemption (Spawn) or a half-vampire vampire hunter (Blade). The positive imagery is probably just as important as the fact that a black man is playing the hero, Kenfe said.

“Now, with Black Panther, you have it from the jump, this fictional country of Wakanda, it’s the most technologically advanced nation in the world,” Kenfe said. “Everyone there lives to be hundreds of years old and it’s almost like a modern paradise. Just to see where it’s been able to transition into, it’s been remarkable and that’s why I placed it to be something important that these children, these black children get to see this movie. This is evolution happening before our eyes.”

Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, a comic book fan himself, agrees that it’s important for black children to see themselves represented in comics, but he said that the evolution that Marvel is undergoing is showing a greater shift in the superhero movie universe.

Richardson began collecting comics as a youth in Alabama, finding any way possible to make an hour-long trip to Tuscaloosa where the closest comic shop was located. He rattled off his collection—which he has rebuilt since losing his childhood comics on a Greyhound bus while moving to California—that includes Batman, X-Men, Superman Fantastic Four and a host of other storylines.

He pointed though to the wave of diversity sweeping not only upcoming movie releases but the artists behind comics. Richardson’s friends and Long Beach comic artists Donovan Vim Crony and Hannibal Tabu are examples of people of color producing comics.

The recent replacement of Peter Parker with Miles Morales, a Black and Latino boy, as Spiderman, and the introduction of Ri Ri Williams, a 15-year-old MIT student who is set to take over the Iron Man suit from Tony Stark were other examples cited by Richardson. The vice mayor also noted that Long Beach rapper Vince Staples has a track featured in the trailer for the upcoming animated Spiderman movie Into the Spider-Verse.

“Folks are really excited about not just Black Panther, but also the way that comics are sort of embracing diversity,” Richardson said. “It’s pretty cool that people can look to the comics and see a reflection of everyone.”

Unlike a viral video from a charter school in Atlanta, the one that inspired Kenfe to get involved in the Black Panther Challenge, Kenfe will not be handing out the tickets to the children personally. He said he’s merely paying for the admission and giving the tickets to the schools to disburse.

Kenfe’s fundraising page has shot past his original goal and has raised nearly $2,000 in two days. His hope is that the students who do get to see the movie because of the Black Panther Challenge see a positive image of themselves and maybe pick up an interest they didn’t know they had.

“I don’t know which ones are artists in their own respect or interested in illustration but this is an opportunity for them to see something that looks like them,” Kenfe said. “I don’t think a kid is going to see this and say ‘Oh, I want to go fight crime and be a superhero’, but a kid could see this and say ‘That was a really cool movie, I’m kinda interested in film.’ Maybe they’ll want to study more and be involved in the makeup of a movie, or star in one of their own.”

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