It was a night of high energy and palpable emotion on Wednesday, November 9th, when Oakland’s historic Grand Lake Theater hosted a special preview of Marvel Studios’ highly anticipated sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
The film, directed by Oakland native Ryan Coogler, was introduced to a packed audience of community members and budding entrepreneurs by KGO TV’s Julian Glover, who led the crowd with several chants of “Wakanda Forever!” before the show started. As the film played, there were moments of both thunderous applause and a stinging silence, while excited murmurs went through the audience as the credits rolled.
The event was the result of a partnership between Disney’s Future Storytellers initiative and Oakland’s Hidden Genius Project, and for Denzel Russell the choice of both film and venue was particularly meaningful.
“To be able to get to where the Black Panther Party began and the connection to the Black Panthers with the Hidden Genius Project, and to understand our black brothers and sisters who started the organization – in terms of ours Work, the community we serve and how we continue to positively impact women — that’s all,” the communications manager for the local nonprofit told The Chronicle after the screening.
Hidden Genius Project alum Kyron Loggins opened up about his expectations for “Wakanda Forever” before it kicked off and said he hopes it would honor the legacy of late “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, who died of colon cancer in 2020 died.
“Chadwick, he created an icon,” Loggins said. “But I think what we can keep and save from is that he was so proud of his role and I still see that with this cast. They are so proud of their roles, not just as superheroes, but as representatives of our community.”
Kevin Butler, alum of the Hidden Genius Project, shared his friend’s opinion: “I know there has been a lot of controversy about what Disney should do with the role after his death. But I think it’s important that even if there’s no next Black Panther, we move on and understand that Chadwick Boseman doesn’t just represent Black Panther, he represents the hero that we can all be in our lives. ”
Loggins added, “What we can take away from this movie, even more than maybe the last one, is what strength as a unit, as a community, looks like when you don’t have that figurehead.”
Founded in 2012, the Hidden Genius Project represents this ethos with the value of Ubuntu (a Bantu term meaning “I am because we are”), a fundamental element for an organization focused on helping black youth do this , entrepreneurial, technological and managerial skills.
In conjunction with the release of Wakanda Forever, the Hidden Genius Project is one of several organizations across the country collectively receiving a $1 million Disney grant to support nonprofits promoting STEM and arts education and provide mentoring for youth from underrepresented communities.
“As a whole, I think the more we (Ubuntu) understand, the better off the world will be,” added Russell. It’s a message that resonates very strongly with the Black Panther franchise and resonates deeply with the young members who benefit from the Hidden Genius Project.
“There is so much media out there. Everything is not always positive. It’s not even all right. So it’s great to look at the screen and see a hero,” Loggins said. “And while we identify with the Iron Mans, we do identify with Captain Americas, but it’s not the same as seeing your identity on screen.”
For 17-year-old Jordan Woods, introducing new MCU character Namor — the demi-human leader of a race of sea creatures linked to the ancient Mayans played by Tenoch Huerta in the film — offered a rare example of portrayal on the Video by a character who shares his own roots.
“It’s just (refreshing) to know that he wants to help his culture and his people for the right cause,” he said. “It’s also good to know that he’s trying to do something about his people being put down and having to go into hiding.”
Marley Leary, 14, was a huge fan of the first Black Panther and was excited to see the sequel so early; he could hardly contain his excitement after the film ended.
As he considered the story and the film’s gist, his voice began to rise with excitement: “Think about it. Imagine blacks and whites seeing each other every day, going to school together, there wouldn’t even be a difference. Imagine if everyone were color blind and we didn’t see any colors, imagine how different our world would be.”
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (PG-13) opens in theaters on Friday, November 11th.