Atlanta youth celebrate the power of representation at ‘Black Panther’ screening

The special screening was hosted by Disney

Teens and young adults from metro Atlanta organizations were invited to an advanced screening of Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” at the Plaza Theatre Wednesday night. Hosted by Disney, the event was designed to make the movie accessible to Black youth and inspire the next generation of creators.

“If there’s any city on the planet that’s close to recreating what they’ve done in Wakanda, Atlanta’s it,” said Jay Bailey, the president and CEO of the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (RICE), during the event.

RICE was one of two organizations that were highlighted at Wednesday’s screening of the Atlanta-filmed movie (the first “Black Panther” film was also shot locally). Launched in 2018, RICE is an Atlanta-based center dedicated to growing Black-owned businesses. The Propel Center, an innovation hub designed to support the needs of historically Black colleges and universities across the country, was also featured during the event.

Bailey said he brought about 60 entrepreneurs in his program to the screening. When the original film debuted in 2018, Bailey said he and his wife took 1,000 kids to see it.

“I believe so strongly to see powerful images of Black people with Black innovation, Black technology, Black leadership,” Bailey said. “It’s important. It’s inspirational. It’s aspirational, even if it’s in movie form. To be able to see those images shapes what someone thinks about possibility.”

ExploreEarly reaction of ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’: cathartic and positive

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Wednesday’s event also featured a red carpet experience for attendees along with a virtual message from the film’s cast prior to the showing. The event was a part of Disney Future Storytellers initiative, which aims to increase access to entertainment and technology careers for marginalized youth.

Mason Wright, an entrepreneur in RICE, attended the screening. The owner of Stonecrest restaurant Mason’s Super Dogs said the film taught him the importance of building and sustaining a community.

“Home is wherever the people are and who your community is,” Wright said. “The RICE center for me is like my home away from home because when I was getting my business started, I needed a strong foundation. Mr. Jay (Bailey) walked me through how I could improve my business. Like King T’Challa mentored his little sister, Mr. Jay is like my big brother.”

Directed by Ryan Coogler, the long-awaited follow-up finds Wakandans grappling with the loss of their leader, T’Challa, as the country faces new enemies. Chadwick Boseman, who famously portrayed King T’Challa in the original, died from colon cancer in 2020, altering the course of the film.

“Death is a reality of life,” Bailey said. “I think the outpouring of support from the community was so real for a fictional character in a movie. . We became one with the character and made a real person a champion in the community just by his depiction of a character in a movie. It shows us the greater humanity we all have.”

Credit: Getty Images for Disney

Credit: Getty Images for Disney

Cortney Harris, vice president of impact and engagement at Propel, said her organization, which provides career and leadership opportunities to HBCU students, brought over 100 students and faculty members to Wednesday’s screening. Last year, Propel announced plans to launch its physical location within the Atlanta University Center.

“I want youth of color to see, through technology, through education, through innovation, anything is possible,” Harris said.

Sanaa Rowser, a sophomore at Spelman College, serves on Propel’s scholarship and ambassadorship cohort. She said watching “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” inspired her to always believe in herself.

Rowser also said having early access to the film represents Disney’s commitment to supporting HBCUs.

“I think this sends a very clear message about what Disney’s initiative is as far as partnering with HBCUs. The point is to transform the way that we think and the way that we view ourselves,” Rowser said. I feel like the film itself carries on that theme in transforming the way that you view yourself, the way that you view your people, the way that you view culture.”

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” debuts in theaters on Friday.

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