When I went to the movies one weekday morning last week, nearly all of the other moviegoers in the packed auditorium at AMC Loews Boston Common would normally have been in class.
They were students from two local charter schools — the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers and TechBoston Academy — who had been given permission to miss class for the important purpose of seeing “Black Panther.” Nearly all of them were black or Latino, and they were taking part in the cultural event of the moment.
For their morning of entertainment they could thank Thaddeus Miles.
Miles is a community activist and Mass Housing official who decided families who might not be able to afford it shouldn’t miss it. So he solicited donations on Facebook, found a few well-heeled donors, and began renting out the theater for showings of the hit movie, beginning the week it premiered. The showing I went to was his 11th, with more than 2,000 free tickets distributed.
He wasn’t the only person in Boston doing this. Elizabeth Miranda, executive director of the Hawthorne Youth and Community Center in Roxbury, has also taken more than 2,000 people, most of them kids, to see it.
I wanted to know from them why this movie has struck such a nerve, and why they think it’s important for young people in the city to see it.
“We spend a lot of time and energy on the negative in our community,” Miles told me. “And so for me, this is a time that we have been able to bring black families together around joy. Around grace. Around dignity. And just human connection. That’s the importance of it to me.”
“Black Panther,” based on the Marvel Comics series of the same name, is set in a fictional, technologically advanced African nation called Wakanda. The nation, led by King T’Challa, faces serious challenges to its peaceful and advanced way of life. (I’m trying not to give the story away.) It’s a movie of black heroes and superheroes — notably, male and female — led by a young black director, Ryan Coogler. And it’s blown through expectations and shattered records, grossing more than $700 million. Hollywood has never seen anything like it.
Its story of black power and familial conflict has struck a nerve far beyond the usual large audience for comic-book movies. Just ask Miranda.
“I’m not a Marvel person,” she said. “In fact, I’ve never read a comic book in my life.”
But she suspected it could inspire the young people she works with. “There’s a real lack of representation,” she said. “I thought if they could look at a movie directed by a young black man, with a black cast, it would really spark their imagination to want to change the world,” she said. “Art can be a really powerful tool for that.”
So what’s next?
Miles said he hopes to organize a series of community discussions about some of the social and economic issues raised in the film.
“We’re not going to change the world,” Miles said. “That’s not going to come through us going to that movie. But the end result, 10 years from now, might be somebody that [sees] that movie sees and thinks about their own potential and their ability to move to the next level.”
Miranda said the movie is meaningful to her young people in a way that has taken her by surprise. She took a group to the new theater at South Bay Center Friday, during the driving storm.
“A kid came up to me who was wearing a trash bag over his clothes because he didn’t have a rain coat,” she said. “And he just lit up when he saw me, and thanked me. That’s when I knew this was the right thing to do.”