On Friday, February 16, the San Diego-based and self-appointed delegation of Wakanda showed up and showed out at an Ultrastar Cinemas theater. Renting (and selling out) two theaters for a private screening of Black Panther, 349 Black San Diegans helped open the blockbuster Marvel film in style. Breaking records and Hollywood executive stereotypes, I was blessed to participate in and witness not only a watershed moment in film history, but a movement that has connected Africans on the motherland, and also the African diaspora globally. It’s #BlackPantherSoLit for a reason.
What made this viewing of Black Panther special and unique compared to a regular general audience screening, was that it was African-centered.
I arrived at the screening dressed in my version of a grown-up Shuri, one of the breakout characters in the film. Much like many screenings around the nation where Black folk displayed sartorial creativity, viewers came dressed in traditional African garb, satirical homages to an old classic, Coming to America, as well as imaginative takes on Afrofuturism and the Black Fantastic. All ages were dressed to a “T”— from toddlers in face paint and tiny Dashikis to elders draped in cowrie shells and elaborate African gele headwraps. We were not playing around. This was a homecoming of sorts, a gathering of a community that was ready to snatch every bit of Black joy we could from this film.
Organized by local San Diego activist Kim Moore and her team of committed Black women (Kiara Blanchard, Brisa Johnson, and Chakecia Rhone), the Black AF Black Panther Party was created to provide a safe place for the local Black community to come together, cosplay, show out, and revel in what it meant to us to be Black at this moment in time. The overabundance of anti-Blackness and oppressive policies aimed at people who looked like us in America gave our viewing of Black Panther a certain gravitas that made this more than just watching a “movie” for entertainment. We were witnessing a possible future writ large on a silver screen.
We arrived inside the theater to a special red carpet and several thrones for us to pose on as if we were truly Wakandan royalty. Families and friends took turns snapping photos in front of the giant film posters. Outkast and Kendrick Lamar songs were blasting in the theater lobby. It felt like a family reunion; Juneteenth and Christmas and Black cookouts rolled into one giant party.
Once inside the theater, we were given an actual program with an “Order of Service” printed on it. I was seated next to a young brother who brought his African drum to the screening. A gorgeous sister stepped in front of the movie audience and asked for the eldest person in the room to please stand and give their permission to present a libation. An older gentleman who may have been in his late 60’s or early 70’s stood up in the middle of the theater and told the woman that not only did she have permission to pour out libations to honor those who came before us, but that our ancestors were there with us to watch us in that moment. After the libations were poured, we sang the Black National Anthem, and I was thrilled that the entire theater of 246 people that I was seated with knew the words by heart. It felt like church up in there for real!
After singing, there were raffle prizes given out, an announcement was given for directions to an after-party for adults, and the first musical selection was played. Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”. Let me tell you something… we sang that song like we were actually at Warrior Falls waiting for T’Challa to step down from his ship so we could crown our King live in the flesh. The absolute joy was infectious.
After Kendrick had us pumped, the movie played to a rapt audience. We laughed, cried, cheered, and, no pun intended, marveled at us, up there. Melanin poppin’. The Pan African diversity of all the actors. The thirst traps that would have us buzzing for days after that first viewing. ALL THE BLACK WOMEN BEING EVERYTHING. I can’t even begin to describe the awe and sense of wonderment Ryan Coogler and his team gave us. I cried so many times that my Shuri face paint was smeared away on my cheeks. “Look at us.” I kept whispering to myself.
A movie that centered us.
A movie that celebrated us.
A movie that showed us in all our wonderous glory… flaws and all.
When the film ended, there was a Benediction--we swag surfed. Then strolled out knowing that we were a part of true cinema history.