After watching Black Panther, 17-year-old Tyler Nicolutti left the movie theater feeling empowered.
“This movie shows something different than what we usually see,” says the Canyon Springs High School student. “Usually we are portrayed as drug dealers and violent. I liked the way this movie captures us.”
That feeling was exactly the reason why hundreds of Las Vegas students of color gathered February 19 at Eclipse Theaters to watch the movie together. The film left attendees shouting “Wakanda Forever” at the end of the showing and giving each other the Wakanda greeting. But Nic Steele, the owner of the movie theater, is hoping they took away more.
“We want them to leave feeling like they can do anything,” he says. “Not just that they can dream big, but that they can go out there and make those dreams come true.”
100 Black Men of Las Vegas, the Urban Chamber of Commerce and various other local groups collaborated to make the event possible. Charles Whitby, the vice president of development for 100 Black Men of Las Vegas, joined in on the national call, known as the #BlackPantherChallenge, to pay for students to see the movie in theaters. The plan was to raise $12,000 to bring about 600 students, but the group has currently collected about $10,000 and is still fundraising.
Black Panther garnered attention for its ability to showcase the talents of the black community not only in front of the screen but behind the scenes through its directors, writers and costume designers. After raking in more than $200 million domestically during the four-day weekend, the movie proved its success.
However, the film also served as a larger conversation starter.
“Filmmakers have the power to change mindsets, change ideas, to inspire, to encourage and to unite,” says Cameron Miller, a Las Vegas-based filmmaker. “This film was able to do all of that, particularly for people of color.”
Buses of school-aged children filled the eight-theater complex for various showings throughout the day. Nicolutti says it was significant for students to be able to be in this environment together.
“It creates more unity,” he says. “It shows the importance of coming together and how strong you are as a community.”
Whitby wanted the day to be more than just a screening. It was a chance to harness the energy of the film to further inspire African American students. After each showing, local actors, directors and business owners talked with the groups about what Black Panther meant for them.
For Miller, he was encouraged by the fact that the movie had everything from the depiction of strong female characters to the way black people were shown as innovators of technology. But as a filmmaker, it was director Ryan Coogler and his vision for bringing this to the big screen that left him in awe.
“This film was inspiring for me because it showed me the way we could all come together to make such an epic picture,” Miller says.
Miller was able to use the momentum of that feeling to spark a conversation among the students about finding their individual creativity and how they can use it to make a difference. “Who believes, through watching this film, [that] they are inspired to write or create or do something?” he asks the group of students. “You can change the world by what you have to offer.”
In a theater down the hall, Steele also spoke to another group. As a business owner, he was able to talk with students about entrepreneurship and the journey of opening one of the nation’s few black-owned movie theaters. Steele was equally inspired by the themes depicted in Black Panther, but wanted the students to get one more lesson out of the day: Whether it’s opening a luxury movie theater or directing a box-office success, the students have the ability to achieve anything.
“It’s important for students to know this theater is black-owned so they can see it’s possible for them to do something like this,” he says. “Nothing is impossible.”