By Ellen McGirt
Updated: February 20, 2018 2:32 PM ET

There was life before Black Panther, and now, life afterward.

Box-office records are already shattering, barely five days into the film’s official release. Black Panther looks to have made about $235 million in the U.S. and about $404 million worldwide, making it only the fifth movie to debut with more than $200 million over its opening weekend and the third highest four-day gross in history, passing Jurassic World’s $234.1 million four-day gross.

More records may be broken once the final tallies are in. Box Office Mojo has a breathlessly detailed breakdown here.

As well-received as the film was here in the U.S., the reception across Africa seemed even more poignant, particularly in light of the “shithole countries” comments recently made by Donald Trump.

South African actor John Kani, who plays Wakandan King T’Chaka, told the Associated Press that it was time to put those remarks aside:

“This time the sun now is shining on Africa,” he said. “This movie came at the right time. We’re struggling to find leaders that are exemplary and role models … so when you see the Black Panther as a young boy and he takes off that mask you think, ‘Oh my God, he looks like me. He is African and I am African. Now we can look up to some person who is African.'”

It’s something to build on. I took three of my favorite fifteen and sixteen-year-old young women to the film this opening weekend. They’re not African, and none of them look like star Chadwick Boseman. But he turned out to be the kind of superhero they didn’t know they wanted, and yes, could look up to.

All three found Black Panther/T’Challa to be a refreshing change from the usual troubled hero trope. Unmarked by a need for vengeance and able to absorb the views of others, the prince-turned-king valued women as partners and was fully prepared to make good decisions as a leader, “without it taking six episodes to get over his hurt feelings about his father.” No sitting in a Batcave and brooding, no spinning webs of despair. Plenty of drama, yes, but no collateral damage at the hands of a toxic male figure.

When I asked them to tag themselves in the film, they all picked Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, the teenaged technologist who is funny, cherished, indispensable and quite literally, the smartest person in the entire country. She is rapidly becoming the world’s favorite Disney princess, and a role model for black girls who are woefully underrepresented in STEM. (She also managed to pull off hand-to-hand combat while delivering expert tech support, by the way.)

That these non-techie girls had no trouble seeing themselves in Shuri struck me as an extraordinary win, particularly as we left the safety of Wakanda to head back to school and work, where dangers are looming large and real-life superheroes seem to be in short supply.

I do have hope. The most recent example is Emma González, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

González delivered a barn-burner of a speech in the wake of the mass shooting horror at her school which left 17 people dead. In her extraordinary remarks, she promised that it would be the last mass shooting event in the nation. “The people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us,” she said. “And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call B.S.”

It was a superhero moment for a modern age. Let the kids lead the way.

After the film, I tagged myself as M’Baku, for reasons that should become clear if you see it.

But in real life, I tag myself as the person who believes in the Emma Gonzálezes of the world, and all the overlooked, under-resourced people who deserve a leadership role in their own futures and who are working to deliver on a vision that’s informed by equity, generosity, conviction, evidence and moral imagination.

And I’m fully prepared to grind up and feed to my cats any old school powermongers and who stand in their way.

Just kidding. My cats are vegetarians. But you get my drift.



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