Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, Black Girl Nerds, Black Panther, brooklyn, Brooklyn NAACP, Chadwick Boseman, Combat Jack, Crown Wakanda, Crown Wakanda Initiative, Cumbe Center for African Dance, DJ BenHameen, FanBrosShow, Howard University, Marvel Comics, Nicholas Brooklyn, Tatiana King Jones, Universal Fan Con, Wakanda, Weeksville Heritage Center
Long live the #WakandaForever pomp and circumstance surrounding Marvel Comic’s Black Panther! Excitement about the cinematic masterpiece has been simmering for over a year with memes predicting the types of African-inspired attire that moviegoers would rock during opening weekend. However, with images from New York, Los Angeles and, literally, around the globe to the continent of Africa itself, #WakandaCameToSlay proves that the glorious Motherland-approved fashions worn to movie theaters worldwide were no laughing matter!
I happened to attend The CrownWakanda: Black Panther Advanced Screening Gala, hosted by The FanBrosShow, Brooklyn NAACP, Universal Fan Con, and Black Girl Nerds. Taking place at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on Thursday, February 15th, I purchased my ticket in mid-January, completely underestimating how epic this event would be. This was, afterall, the first time I’d purchased a movie ticket one month in advance of the release date. And given that I’ve never personally been into cosplay, I didn’t give what I’d be wearing to the premier a lot thought. Like most of us who attended Howard University with Black Panther lead actor, Chad Boseman, I was just ecstatic to be attending a screening with some of my HU fam. But the message behind the event began to sink in. “Crown Wakanda is a movement created to inspire and embrace the uniqueness, complexities, and beauty of the African diaspora; through the shared cultural experience of an early screening of Marvel’s Black Panther (2018)… People of all cultures have traditions of wrapping themselves in their finest regalia for festivities with family, important life events, and various special occasions. The Black Panther film is a similar life experience and is already making history–so why not celebrate it accordingly?”
Fast forward to the weekend before the gala, and there I was, going through every closet in my apartment pulling out possible ensembles and accessories that I might wear to represent Wakanda couture! Attendees were encouraged to be “as high concept, shiny, fashion forward, traditional, culturally-specific, Afrofuturistic or over the top” as they wanted. That’s when I realized that while this would be cosplay for a lot of people, most of the clothes that I wear are in some way connected to the African diaspora. It really wasn’t necessary for me to go shopping, but I did end up buying a large pair of black wooden Africa-shaped earrings from Nicholas Brooklyn on Fulton Avenue in Bed Stuy. By Tuesday, I had three fabulous outfits to choose from and mulled over a pair of fierce never-before worn platform shoes, all of which I ran through the apartment in modeling for my older brother! His response, “Welp, you’re just gonna have to go see Black Panther at the movies three times!” I ultimately settled on a classy Wakanda ensemble creating a cape with material I’d bought years ago when I lived a couple of emirates over from Dubai. (More about my House Hunters International episode here!) On the way to the Alamo Drafthouse, my date and I joked that we felt like we were heading to a black tie event in Johannesburg. The night already felt regal and magical!
Upon arriving, we were amazed by the royal purple carpet and the paparazzi-like photographers leading into the event. After sharing hugs with the event hosts, HU fam DJ BenHameen (forever Wakanda’s Favorite DJ) and Tatiana King Jones of the FanBrosShow who were equally Wakanda fashion forward, I couldn’t stop beaming over the relentless African swag throughout the the lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse! I hoped that this cultural moment would translate into more tourism and travel to African countries for everyone who was repping Wakanda to the fullest extent. In addition to screening the film, the event included the #OMDigital cinematic booth, drumming and dancing from Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance, and a video tribute to renowned hip hop attorney-turned-podcaster Reggie Combat Jack Ossé creating an overall premium cultural experience. Not to mention Alamo’s programming surrounding the movie that included clips and scenes from vintage Black Panther cartoon episodes and other Black superhero film clips in lieu of showing the customary string of coming attractions that usually precede a movie. As the clips played Cumbe dancers performed below the screen, giving ticket holders time to order from the delicious theater menu that included gourmet cuisine and cocktails with Black Panther inspired specials.
Before the movie ultimately began, DJ BenHameen, Tatiana King Jones, and L. Joy Williams, president of the Brooklyn NAACP, thanked the crowd for supporting the sold out gala. In addition to Thursday’s screening, the Crown Wakanda Initiative included a day of activities on Friday for youth in Brooklyn featuring a visit to the historic cultural center Weeksville Heritage Center, one of the first free Black communities in America still located in the neighborhood of Crown Heights. Per the Crown Wakanda Curriculum GoFundMe page, the goal is for Brooklyn youth to enroll in the “‘Build Your Own Wakanda’ event series, where participants will work with civic engineers, city planners, and architects to learn the key activities and tasks that go into city building.” The kids were gifted a free screening of Black Panther “that featured cosplayers, free popcorn and drink, as well as educational messaging to help tie in the movie to easy to understand STEM concepts.” Their overall mission is to fund Black Panther screenings and assist the Brooklyn NAACP to expand this series throughout spring 2018. The global component of the Crown Wakanda Initiative includes partnering with the Long Live The King’ efforts in St. Kitts & Nevis. “LLTK … is comprised of several small community groups that mentor primary school kids from the underprivileged area in the capital of Basseterre, St. Kitts. As members of the overall Crown Wakanda initiative, their mission is to provide Black Panther movie tickets for all kids in their program, as well as provide educational support.”
The magnitude of this historic Black Panther opening weekend is finally settling in. The only time I can recall there being such an intersection of cultural pride, pop culture relevance, and social justice accountability was during the release of Spike Lee’s X in 1992. I remember attending a free screening at the Baldwin Hills Movie Theater as an eighth grader. This was part of a community-driven initiative led by an organization called Young Black Scholars that shaped and prepared Los Angeles youth for college. (They also happened to take a group of us to see Prince in concert at his legendary Glam Slam nightclub in downtown L.A.!) I can’t get enough of reading about the countless Black celebrities who are buying out entire theaters so that Black and Brown kids can see this relevant Black Panther film. The social advocacy that is being galvanized in support of empowering our youth is powerful and life-enhancing. Witnessing the overwhelming display of African fashion and Wakandan costumes go viral makes me want to shave my head like the Dora Milaje and gear up! It really is clear that we’ve been ready for a BLACK PANTHER revolution!