‘Black Panther’s’ Grassroots Marketing Movement Is Unlike Any Other Marvel Movie

Black Panther
COurtesy of Matt Kennedy/©Marvel Studios 2018

UPDATED: When SuCh Charles, a 32-year-old singer and songwriter from Denver, saw a trailer for “Black Panther,” she was moved to organize an event to bring together Denver’s black community. She said that while it’s not a large population, comprising just 2.3% of all residents, it was important to show up in force for the first Marvel movie to feature a black protagonist.

The screening she organized is just one of hundreds of grassroots events across the country being organized by black filmgoers to celebrate the Feb. 16 opening of the historic film and give kids a chance to see it in theaters.

“I needed to do something in which it brings the community together, especially in the political times that we’re in,” Charles said. “We’re always fighting, and there’s not as much a celebration of things, but here we are with something that we’re able to celebrate, something for a joyous moment.”

Charles approached Alamo Drafthouse about renting a single room for a screening, but demand was so high, it has since expanded to three screens.

She emphasizes the importance of a film like “Black Panther” by pointing to her son, who will turn 7 the day the movie bows. “It really hits home for me,” she said, describing the impact John Boyega’s Star Wars character, Finn, had on her son, who was thrilled to see someone who had hair like his in a major Hollywood production.

“It’s so good for children to be able to see this,” she said.

Passion for the film has spurred widespread fundraising efforts. Frederick Joseph, a marketing consultant from New York City, recently created the #BlackPantherChallenge with the aim of raising $10,000 through a GoFundMe page to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem. Within days, he had surpassed the goal, raising more than $40,000. The hashtag took off on social media.

Now there are over 200 campaigns, including in cities like Toronto, London and Ghana, he said. The campaign has attracted the attention of celebrities like Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis. Spencer  wrote on Instagram that she would rent out a theater in Mississippi so underprivileged children could see the movie on the big screen. Davis lent her voice to a fundraiser in Austin, which just recently raised the entire $4,000 to send 200 kids to see the movie.

“The focus is on kids because kids are extremely impressionable,” Joseph said. “With the current landscape that we’re in, culturally and politically, it’s never been more important in the modern era to combat some of these negative entities, especially for kids of color, and young LGBTQ kids, and women.”

Brie Larson, one of the newest members of the Marvel family, got in on the action on Friday, the day of the movie’s release.

“If you want to buy tix for people who can’t afford to see #BlackPanther at the moment, comment below. If you are in need of tix, reach out to the angels who have commented below #payitforward Enjoy the movie everyone,” the “Captain Marvel” star tweeted, connecting Twitter users who couldn’t afford tickets with those offering to buy them.

Dominique Jones, executive director of the Harlem Boys and Girls Club, said that because of Joseph’s fundraising, they’ll be able to take about 400 kids to see the film in New York.

“Being engaged with positive media is important,” she said. “For them to not only be entertained, but the messages and themes reinforce what we’re doing here at the club.”

The story of the Black Panther and the fictional nation of Wakanda depicts an African community that has resisted colonization and remains self-sufficient, empowered and strong, Jones said.

“Those are values we want to impart on our young people. To see it in a dramatic way, it helps to reinforce the values that we are teaching our young people,” she said.

In Dallas, Jazmine Dudley and Camille Duale, co-founders of Pretty Brown and Nerdy, a female-centric blog for comic book nerds, are looking forward to a series of events in between film showings at a local theater that will include a DJ, African dancers, a drum group and pop-up shops.

“It’s been a long time coming for black people to have a superhero movie that represents us,” Dudley said. The movie “doesn’t convey stereotypes. It shows Africa in a different light.”

Duale is most excited about the impact on young people who want to create content and other media. The success of the film will create a dialogue about “how visually stunning blackness can be,” she said.

The hope is that “Black Panther” won’t just be a fun night at the movies and a chance to see a costumed hero save the world from destruction. The film, and its predominately black cast and crew, can impact aspiring artists, directors, and writers from the black community who don’t see themselves represented frequently on screen.

“Someone is going to invest their time and money into them,” said Duale. “They can potentially create things like that in the future.”

It’s a film of many firsts: “Black Panther’s” protagonist T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the king of a secretive African nation, is the first black character to lead a Marvel cinematic universe film, while Ryan Coogler is the first black director of a Marvel film. The large cast of black actors includes Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Forest Whitaker.

“Black Panther” hits theaters at a time when most major movies are still being anchored by white male stars. According to a study by USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism and Communication, of the 100 highest-grossing films of 2016, roughly a quarter lacked any black characters.

The unprecedented nature of “Black Panther’s” cast and subject matter is poised to translate into massive box office results. Early tracking suggests that the film could open to as much as $150 million when it debuts on Feb. 16, the start of the four-day President’s Weekend holiday.

“It’s breaking the models,” said Elizabeth Frank, chief content and programming officer at AMC Theatres. “We saw a spike in sales just around the beginning of the new year.”

AMC says the film is out-selling all previous Marvel movies with strong sales in both urban areas and suburban locations. Fandango, the online ticketing giant, says that “Black Panther” is outselling all previous superhero films at this point in its cycle, and the company  is  seeing higher ticket sales per transaction, which would indicate large groups are planning to attend the film on opening weekend.

Others are reporting similar results.

“The excitement we’re seeing in the marketplace and from our customers is astounding,” said Rolando Rodriguez, CEO of Marcus Theatres. “People are excited because you’re seeing not only a great Marvel movie, but a comic book movie that’s about diversity and inclusion. It’s not just Marvel fans we’re hearing from, but moviegoers who are excited to see a superhero they can relate to.”

With “Panther”-mania hitting, Marcus Theatres and other exhibitors are cooking up creative tie-ins for the film. Marcus is offering “Black Panther”-inspired beverages. Alamo Drafthouse, for its part, has created a menu of customized Ethiopian cuisine to accompany screenings — it boasts such delicacies as Berbere-spiced chicken wings and niter kibbeh-flavored popcorn. There’s also a merchandising element, with Alamo selling customized “Black Panther” glasses.

“It’s all about blowing up the experience,” said Chaya Rosenthal, senior director of marketing at Alamo Drafthouse. “We did a poll at the end of the year and people told us overwhelmingly that this was one of the top movies they wanted to see in 2018. They were so passionate about it.”