How Black Panther has spurred community and activism across the globe

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As Black Panther homes in on a projected $180 million opening weekend, it's already solidified its legacy as the fourth biggest pre-sold movie in Fandango history and boasts a 97 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The first MCU film helmed by a black director and to feature a black lead and a primarily black cast was set to become a cultural phenomenon from day one. T'Challa's (Chadwick Boseman) introduction in Captain America: Civil War was well received by both fans and the Avengers themselves (after a misunderstanding with Bucky Barnes was cleared up, that is); it only made sense for his first standalone film to be equally beloved.

The cultural importance of a film like Black Panther — the story of an African king supported primarily by women in a movie series that has been commanded by white, mostly American men since its inception in 2008 — cannot be overstated. Neither can the sheer number of community initiatives that have sprung up around the film's premiere.

Across the U.S. and the world, people have been raising money to buy tickets for underprivileged fans who otherwise wouldn't have been able to see Black Panther in theaters. U.S. movie ticket prices reached an all-time high in 2017, up 4 percent from the previous year (not that anyone needs statistics to explain just how expensive it is to watch a movie on the big screen).

The most prominent fundraiser looking to raise money for Black Panther tickets was started by Frederick Joseph, who initially set out to buy tickets for New York City's Harlem Boys & Girls Club. Joseph launched a GoFundMe campaign on January 5 and ended up raising over $40,000 in about 10 days to take Harlem kids to see Black Panther in theaters. And thus the #BlackPantherChallenge was born.

Joseph's efforts went viral, just as he'd hoped they would, resulting in thousands of people across the globe donating money, buying out theaters, and generally proving that there's still some good left in our weird, often-dark world. The movement has raised at least $400,000 for Black Panther tickets.

Joseph tells SYFY WIRE that the response to the Black Panther Challenge has "moved me to my core.”

"I did it because ... Black Panther has all these layers of representation that were in it," Joseph tells SYFY WIRE. "The focus on black feminism, the focus on a never-colonized nation in Africa, the focus on non-toxic black masculinity — these are all very important topics to me, so I feel that the opportunity to provide for children to see a film that had all those layers was something I had to do."

The Harlem kids who Joseph helped raise money for all got to go see Black Panther on opening night in NYC. He says their reaction was "overwhelmingly positive." Joseph's 6-year-old brother and cousin were in one of the theaters with him on Thursday night; they've decided they want to save up money to visit Africa.

The success of the Black Panther Challenge is only the beginning for Joseph, who is founder of the organization We Have Stories. The group focuses its efforts on "amplifying stories that don’t get told, or don’t get heard" and moving "the needle on representation."

He and his team at We Have Stories are "working on a pipeline for our storytellers of underrepresented groups — children of color, women, the LGBTQ community — because it's really deeper than just one story," he said. "It's about providing access to our next generation of storytellers."

Joseph's efforts and the international Black Panther Challenge movement sparked plenty of celebrity attention. Among its supporters were actress Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Gifted, The Help), who bought out a theater in Mississippi "to ensure that all our brown children can see themselves as a superhero." Captain Marvel actress Brie Larson took to Twitter on Friday, the day after the film's premiere, to encourage people to buy tickets for those who couldn't afford it and to signal-boost free ticket offers across the globe.

"It's been humbling," Joseph says of how both celebrities and the general public have risen to the occasion. "I've tried to keep my focus because the more focused I am, the more children can see the film. I try not to get too caught up in the moment."

Black Panther is now playing in theaters.