Teachers Are Bringing ‘Black Panther’ to the Classroom

By Brenda Iasevoli — March 01, 2018 3 min read
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“Black Panther,” the first Marvel Studios film with a predominantly black cast, is now the company’s third-highest grossing film, behind the two “Avengers” films.

It’s a big hit in classrooms, too.

Teachers are building lessons based on the film, set in the super hi-tech, uncolonized African nation of Wakanda, where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) inherits the fictitious kingdom upon the death of his father only to be challenged by a Wakandan exile, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

Chicago middle school teacher Tess Raser wrote the “Wakanda Curriculum” to help her students explore the film’s themes of colonialism, cultural representation, global anti-blackness, black feminism, and Afrofuturism. The lessons guide students in grades 5 through 8 in character analysis, asking questions like: “What character traits did T’Challa show? What do his actions reveal about his character? Do you agree with all of his actions?”

Another activity guides students in a debate over what Wakanda represents: black elitism or the “possibility for a black future.” Students are asked to use evidence from the film as well as their own background knowledge to support their reasoning.

“I hope that my students leave a lesson a little bit more confident in their blackness, that they see themselves as leaders equipped with the political analysis and tools to create the Wakanda of their dreams,” Raser told Blavity, a Los Angeles-based news site created by black millenials. “I hope that they learn the ways in which our blackness connects us to people across the world, while appreciating and understanding and honoring our differences.”

Michelle Obama in February tweeted her support of what she sees as the film’s potential educational value for young people:

Educators, celebrities, and business owners are handing out free tickets to ensure that kids from Los Angeles to Atlanta have the chance to see the film, reports the Associated Press. In a video that went viral, all students at Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta got the news that they’d get to see “Black Panther.” Similar moments happened in schools across the country.

A petition calling on Disney (Marvel’s parent company) to give 25 percent of the film’s worldwide profits to programs in black communities so far has garnered nearly 9,000 signatures.

Disney announced on Monday that it would donate $1 million, a fraction of the $422 million grossed in the United States and Canada since the movie hit theaters on Feb. 16, to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The organization said it would use the money to create STEM (short for science, technology, engineering, and math) innovation centers in 12 cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, the District of Columbia, Memphis, and Oakland.

“It’s fitting that we show our appreciation by helping advance STEM programs for youth, especially in underserved areas of the country, to give them the knowledge and tools to build the future they want,” Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, said in a statement.

But some are suggesting the company could do a whole lot more. “A million dollars is a rounding error for Disney,” NPR journalist Gene Demby tweeted.

Photo: From left, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa and Danai Gurira as Okoye in “Black Panther.” Credit Marvel/Disney

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.