Arts & Culture

‘I can’t believe a movie like this would happen in America’

After watching a trailer for “Black Panther,” James Montague was “blown away” and certain of this: Every kid in Southeast Raleigh should see this movie.

So Montague, a developer and community advocate, partnered with three other people to buy 200 tickets to the blockbuster film that features a black superhero. Kids and teenagers from Southeast Raleigh, a predominantly African-American community, got free tickets and watched the movie with family, friends and chaperones on Tuesday at the Regal Crossroads Stadium theater in Cary.

“When I was a teen, the movies with characters that looked like me, movies with an all-black cast, didn’t set such a positive image – ‘Menace II Society,’ ‘State Property,’ ‘Boyz n the Hood,’ ‘Colors,’ ” said Montague, 47. “This one is positive. It gives us not only a peek into the future, but it also gives us a look into the past.”

Juan Avery, who still has about 300 comic books from his childhood collection, joined Montague, Raleigh attorney Stormie Forte, and Montague’s son, Ishmael, a music producer in California, to buy the movie tickets. Avery brought his 15-year-old son, Zavier, to see the movie Tuesday.

“Black Panther was always one of my heroes, a moral hero,” Avery said. “For today’s young black boys and girls to be able to see a hero that is moral, ethical and powerful, to be exposed to those leadership skills, is important. There’s a thirst for that.”

Eight-year-old Devin Sams was the youngest of his “Black Panther” viewing crew, but he wasn’t a tag-along.

“The Black Panther is the new superhero,” said Devin, a student at Fuller Elementary School in Raleigh. “They tried to save the world. They didn’t want the villain to take over their family or the world.”

That’s the kind of positive take-away Demika Sams hoped for her sons, Devin and older brother Thomas, 12, and their buddy Jalen Thomlinson, 13.

“There’s so much negative talk about the black community and black kids,” said Sams, who heard about the ticket giveaway at work. “It’s good for them to see something positive they can look up to.”

Even if some of the most powerful messages of community empowerment, racism, colonialism and nationalism are lost on young movie-goers now, the impact could stretch into the future.

“At their age, they may not understand the significance of what this movie means, but if it creates a new norm where they’re used to seeing African-Americans in these lead, powerful roles, then it’s all worth it,” said Michael Stewart-Isaacs, who saw the movie with his wife and their blended family of five children, ages 7 months to 13.

Their daughter, Alihera, and son, CJ, both 11, zeroed in on the movie’s humor around the brother-sister relationship, and the fate of the superhero, respectively.

“That’s what we’re going for, ultimately, as a community and culture of African-descended people: a level of neutrality, of seeing ourselves become part of the societal norm,” Stewart-Isaacs said. “I just think it’s going to be really impactful. It’s the confidence we want our kids to connect to.”

Lisa Alston and her sister, L. Nicole Leonard, were chaperones for 10 teens who might not otherwise have seen the movie.

“I loved all the nationalities and all the traditions they had,” said Tamara Wingfield, 17, a junior at Sanderson High School in Raleigh. “It was beautiful, and I really enjoyed seeing that; it’s how our ancestors lived.”

For three others in the group, they saw truth in the film’s futuristic fiction of Wakanda, Africa.

“It was amazing,” said Mariama Njie, 16, a senior at Sanderson and a native of Gambia in West Africa. “It felt like I was home in my motherland, and I can’t believe a movie like this would happen in America.

“The movie can teach people more of what they don’t know about Africa. It’s not what they think it is.”

Classmate Bambi Mbikayi was empowered by messages of strength and intellect that flowed through the movie’s female characters.

“If you are a woman, you always have to be strong like (the character) Nakia – not just because you love a boy, but because you love the country, too,” said Mbikayi, a senior at Sanderson and a native of Congo. “As women, we should all do the same thing.”

It brought tears to the eyes of Therese Diangana, another Sanderson student.

“There are bright, very smart people in Africa and given the right opportunities things we saw in this movie are what can happen,” she said, turning to her native Lingala tongue of the Congo: “Nalingi yango mingi.”

Translation: “I liked it so much.”

Lori Wiggins is a correspondent for The News & Observer. Email her at ldrwigg@gmail.com.

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