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Black churches host screenings of ‘Black Panther’

Actor Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther/T’Challa in the new Black Panther movie. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

City of Refuge United Church of Christ congregation and friends attend a pre-screening of “Black Panther” in Dublin, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2018. Photo courtesy of Joi Rhone

Spoiler alert: This story includes details about the “Black Panther” plot that some may prefer not to know before they see it.

(RNS) — Xavier Cooper went straight from his shift as a cook at a fast-food restaurant to an early showing of the “Black Panther” movie — 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.

Cooper 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 Cooper, 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, are also tapping into the movie’s messages they hope will be particularly affirming to young people of a range of races and religions.

Members of the Dora Milaje, elite personal bodyguards of the Black Panther, in a scene from the movie. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

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

Black youth get tired of seeing negative depictions of people of their own race in movies, said 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.


READ: African cosmologies: spiritual reflections on the ‘Black Panther’ movie


“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.”

The Rev. Hodari Williams, pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church in College Park, Ga., planned a sermon series related to the movie after attending a Feb. 15 screening organized by his predominantly black church. Among his themes is not keeping your gifts to yourself. As Wakandans learned in the movie, he hopes his church will “make our resources the resources of the community.”

Williams, who wore a blue and white dashiki from Ghana when he saw the movie, said he also wanted young people to gain a sense of the beauty of the African continent.

“In our history books, it’s been taught that it’s a land of savages and people who have no regard for humanity or God,” said the pastor, whose church is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). “This movie conveyed a deep connection to spirituality and the ancestors and how one cannot lead without that kind of spirituality and a superhero himself is very in tune with the ancestors and the creator of the universe.”

Leaders of predominantly black churches were not the only people of faith who wanted to get young people into the theaters for the popular movie.

The Rev. Jacqui Lewis, the African-American pastor of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, said her congregation’s white youth director took a multicultural group of teens to see “Black Panther” on Feb. 15 and they have since used Trinity United Church of Christ’s study guide.

“You know how teenagers are all about the superheroes, the kind of projection of the good we hope is in ourselves out on the screen,” said Lewis. “For that to be larger-than-life black folk was moving to our white children as well as our black children.”

Khaled Beydoun, an associate law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, treated a group of 17 Muslim students to the movie on Friday (Feb. 23). The Muslim educator said “they were totally enthralled by the film.”

Given the significant percentage of Muslims in this country who are black, his goal was to help young nonblack Muslims bridge divides in a diverse city where schools are often segregated.

Actor Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther/T’Challa in the new “Black Panther” movie. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

“If these young Arab, Muslim kids begin to see black people as members of their own, I think that can do a lot to erode racism in places like Detroit, but also nationally,” said Beydoun, author of the forthcoming “American Islamophobia.”

Cooper, of the AME Zion church in North Carolina, also noticed the movie’s universal themes of common humanity, which he said reminded him of the bond he has between “my brother in Christ, my sister in Christ” in his youth group.

“In my youth group, we loved the movie,” said Cooper, who planned to see it again. “It was the best movie I’ve seen.”

Faithful Viewer logo. Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

24 Comments

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  • Excuse me if I’m skeptical. But the more we reinforce the idea that skin color somehow identifies us (which is does as a cultural value, but in Aristotelian terms it is an accidental quality not an essential one) the more we will reinforce “racism”. We need to get beyond giving our skin so much importance in our lives then perhaps we can achieve Dr. King’s dream of we are valued based on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin.

  • After God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Matthew 4:17) soon intervenes in man’s affairs (Daniel 2:44) and puts an end to all of our problems on earth (Revelation 21:3,4), including all wicked ones (Isaiah 11:1-5), there will finally be complete and loving brotherhood of all mankind, no matter our race, culture or nation (Micah 4:3,4).

    This will take place throughout the upcoming peaceful, loving and just millennial rule of that government by its King, Christ Jesus (Isaiah 9:6,7),

    Also, an innumerable number of persons we have lost to death will be resurrected back to life on a paradise earth (John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15) throughout that rule, to be reunited with family and friends.

    None of these grand blessings will ever come about from imperfect men, nor any of their governments (Psalm 146:3,5). But all of them will definitely take place by God and his government (Isaiah 55:10,11).

    The best is yet to come!????

  • Side note for black Christians:
    Next Sunday, if your pastor says anything like “(The hero) gets his real power from the spirit, the spirit of the panther. In other words, he gets his power from the Holy Ghost,” do yourself a favor. Start shopping for another pastor.

    The movie is well made; it’s a hit. But we still need Christian pastors who can understand and explain the difference between what the Bible says and what a Hollywood movie says.

    For Rev. Moss to equate a “spirit animal” from the demonic world of occultism and shamanism, with the incomparable and infinite Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God — oh no no. That’s beyond unbelievable.

  • “It’s not a perfect movie but it has so many affirming messages,” said the Rev. Warren H. Stewart Sr.

    This is so true. Please excuse the plug, but my co-host and I found quite a bit of positivity in the story, including the importance of fathers and an examination of the age old “who is my neighbor” question that falls right in line with the words of Christ. We discuss it in this month’s episode of “Are You Just Watching” (https://areyoujustwatching.com/black-panther-ayjw078/)

  • In the movie, the one that was all about skin color was the villain while both sides of the debate among the heroes on whether Wakanda should open itself to the larger world were based on a healthy nationalism. Hopefully, the audiences will take that to heart.

  • I wonder if the ministers realize Wakanda is not Christian 🙂

    In any event..amazing movie…excellent role models for young black youths. (and all of us in fact).

  • To be fair – T challa tried to use his powers only when necessary.

    But I did have a problem with leadership by combat…seems barbaric.

  • To me…it’s just a movie. It presents certain worldviews…so does Christianity and Hinduism etc.

    I don;t have a religion but if someone wants to use media to make a religious analogy and that helps them…more power.

  • Mass murder and violence is family entertainment. Two men kissing is an abomination.

    There you have my issue.

  • I haven’t seen the movie, yet.. Don’t plan to until Red Box has it. But I feel compelled to question if the hero of the movie, was he sinless? Did he not have a sin nature because his father was – not of this world?
    Hollywood’s intent is to make money, not reveal the truth that we a all sinners that need redeeming that only faith in Christ can give. Hollywood’s intent is to hide the truth in make believe.
    I can remember the goosebumps I’d get when Gandolf, on a white charger, resembled my Savior returning to rescue Israel from what is coming. Yes, I got caught up in the sensationalism of a man made movie who’s hero, in real life has a moral dilemma.
    Too our black brothers and sisters in Christ, well, to all of you, we will not be separated in Eternity. Let’s start living like that now and show fruit to the world.

  • It is not the case that two men kissing are an abomination..that’s your opinion…not fact

  • There was another film with an all black cast — the 1951 gentle South African comedy The Pennywhistle Blues. It is worth seeing.

  • “‘[Black Panther’s] not a perfect movie’ … [you] said … Warren H. Stewart R.”? But at least it isn’t what has “‘been taught that [Africa is] a land of savages and people who have no regard for humanity of God,’ [you] said … Hodari Williams”? Besides, it’ll “‘do a lot to erode racism in places like Detroit, but also nationally,’ [you] said [Khaled] Beydoun” – but not, that is, in – I don’t know if this is relevant to you – Africa?!

    Ya think, guys?

    Quite an understatement, to say the least, donchasink? – considering that:

    (1) Black Panther’s “‘redemptive counter-mythology’ entrenches the tropes that have been used to dehumanize Africans for centuries”! (According to Patrick Gathara, “‘Black Panther’ offers a regressive, neocolonial vision of Africa”, Washington Post, February 26, 2018.)

    (2) “The best way to destroy the impetus” – “for Nigerians to go to see Nigerian movies on the big screen” – “is to introduce the kind of craze that has been introduced over recently debuted Hollywood movie, Black Panther”! (According to Morenike Taire, “Black Panther- what’s the big deal”, Vanguard News (Nigeria), February 24, 2018.)

    (3) “All the Wakandans [in the movie] remain detached, surrounded by luxury and comfort in what amounts to an enormous gated community. In other words, they behave like any other modern capitalist elite”! (According to Russell Rickford, “I have a problem with Black Panther”, Africa Is A Country: Not The Continent With 54 Countries, February 22, 2018.)

    (4) “Black Panther contains a fundamentally reactionary understanding of black liberation that blatantly advocates bourgeois respectability over revolution, sterilizes the history of real-life anti-colonial struggles in Africa and elsewhere, and allows white folks … to feel extremely comfortable watching it – which, given Marvel’s sole purpose, is almost certainly the bottom line”! (According to James Wilt, “How Black Panther liberalizes black resistance for white comfort”, Canadian Dimension, February 21, 2018.)

    (5) “We are given a movie about black empowerment where the only redeemed blacks are African nobles. They safeguard virtue and goodness against the threat not of white Americans or Europeans, but a black American man, the most dangerous person in the world”! (According to Christopher Lebron, “‘Black Panther’ Is Not the Movie We Deserve”, Boston Review: A Political and Literary Forum, February 17, 2018.)

    (6) “Black Panther … [a] Marvel film is [an] example of Disney (who own Marvel) standing to profit from the depiction of another culture. … [Their] depiction of the fictitious African nation of Wakanda … [as] a non-descript hodgepodge of elements from a number of African peoples … [is] perpetuating the stereotype that a continent far larger than Europe, the USA and China combined is culturally homogeneous”! (According to Fenton Coulthurst, “The simple issue of cultural appropriation”, Pop Verse, November 3, 2017.)

  • Racism can so mess with people’s minds. Most bigotry, when so deeply entrenched, has the same effects on people’s minds— anti gay, anti woman, anti Jew.

  • Philadelphia, Milk & Brokeback Mountain come to mind. But they didn’t generate unpopular critical commentaries that “[bigotry] can so mess with people’s minds”, as I recall. Well, then, here’s to hoping that an equal to Black Panther shall hit the cultural sphere sooner than later. And we’ll continue this reflection.

    Maybe racism is an “easier” target than bigotry? You should be the consultant for such a movie, whose pitch is, as you say, “[Bigotry] can so mess with people’s minds … when so deeply entrenched”!

  • Actually, I didn’t say anything about the movie directors or writers. My focus this time is on how Christian pastors should be responding to this popular movie, especially within Black America.

    Rev. Moss’ statement was very unfortunate and inexplicable, in biblical terms. It was “wack.”

    We need black pastors who are Biblical enough, and courageous enough, to publicly explain not just the positive religious & racial aspects of this movie, but also the negative downsides like the “spirit animal” and “ancestor worship” aspects.

  • To me…..spirit animal/ancestor worship is on par with Christianity.. both are religions that make claims that I am not convinced are true.

  • You mean, [Atheism, “anti-religion”, etc.] can so mess with people’s minds … when so deeply entrenched”?

    What movies equal to Black Panther or better come to mind that demonstrate this phenomenon?

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