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Black churches across nation host screenings of ‘Black Panther’

3/10/2018, 8:21 a.m.
Xavier Cooper went straight from his shift as a cook at a fast food restaurant to an early showing of ...

By Adelle M. Banks

Religion News Service

Xavier Cooper went straight from his shift as a cook at a fast food restaurant to an early showing of the “Black Panther” — sponsored by his church.

As his elders at Jonahville African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Huntersville, N.C., had hoped, the film had a profound effect on the young man, a leader in the church’s youth group.

Xavier exited the theater with a buoyed confidence about his dreams after spending two hours watching the futuristic kingdom of powerful black people in Wakanda.

“Being an African-American, it shows you that you can do anything you want to,” said Xavier, 17, who wants to own his own record label and production studio.

Across the country — from California to Chicago to Virginia — members of black churches have bought out theaters for screenings and dressed in their favorite African attire to see a superhero who looks like them.

And others, from a New York multicultural congregation to a Detroit Muslim professor, also are tapping into the movie’s messages they hope will be particularly affirming to young people of a range of races and religions.

The Rev. Latasha Gary, Xavier’s youth minister, said 67 people attended the Feb. 16 showing organized by their church near Charlotte, N.C., and dozens had to be turned away when they ran out of seats.

African-American youths get tired of seeing negative depictions of people of their own race in movies, said Rev. Gary, who wore a yellow and brown African dress to the movie showing. “When we found out that this was going to be an epic tale that actually was written by black writers, costumes designed by black costume designers, we were just, like, ‘We have to go see it.’ ”

While the movie tells a fictional story, some religious leaders said its lessons about generosity and brotherhood and sisterhood promote their values. Some also saw specific ties to their faith.

“It’s not a perfect movie, but it has so many affirming messages,” said the Rev. Warren H. Stewart Sr., pastor of Phoenix’s First Institutional Baptist Church, which organized an outing to see the movie. Among them, he said, were “mutual respect and affection toward one another, being made in God’s image and likeness. Even with the death of the star … I saw immediately the concept of death and resurrection, the fact that he came back to life.”

Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago hosted screenings of the movie and created a “Black Panther Study Guide” that calls the historical Ethiopian Empire the home of the biblical Garden of Eden and “the real Wakanda.” It reminds that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church “has her own pope.” The movie’s lead character, T’Challa, is “a king, a leader, a mentor and a reflective spiritual individual,” the guide says.

The Rev. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of the church, told Auburn Seminary’s Voices: “T’Challa, if you take away his suit, he gets his real power from the spirit, the spirit of the panther. In other words, he gets his power from the Holy Ghost.”