Moviegoers flocked to theaters Thursday for preview showings of the highly-anticipated Disney and Marvel superhero film “Black Panther” before its official debut Friday.
The film with a mainly African-American cast and lead character who is a king of a fictional East African nation called Wakanda is projected by tracking services to gross some $175 million at the domestic box office over the four-day holiday weekend, according to the Washington Post.
At the Marcus Gurnee Cinema on Thursday, where multiple screens were showing the film, some fans who registered for a Black Panther event also received movie souvenirs, such as posters and coins.
Many took a few minutes before or after their movie experience to pose next to a cardboard display of the movie’s characters that was placed in the middle of the lobby.
Grayslake residents DK Wesley and her 9-year-old daughter Mari were eager to see the film, they said. They wore African-centric clothing to the theater, and they weren’t the only ones.
The mother and daughter said the movie looked interesting, with what seemed like African futuristic cultures in the previews.
Lael Johnson of Gurnee was going to watch the film with his family on Thursday night.
Johnson said he wanted to support the film and show his 12-year-old son, Lezra, a positive role model who looks like him. The Johnson family is African-American.
Arriving with a group of 12 family members was Anita Hauer of Lake Villa, who said they have all seen every Marvel movie on premiere night, as they’re big fans of the superhero franchise.
This time, though, the film they were excited to watch had one more appealing factor — a cast of African-American actors portrayed as powerful heroes.
“Well, you just don’t see that in big blockbuster films,” Hauer said. “We’re a mixed family and it’s nice to finally see a film I can relate to with positive role models that appeal to the kids.”
Since the announcement that a film with the Black Panther comic book character was in the works some three years ago, many critics have shared their opinions on whether the success of the film will reveal a cultural shift that Hollywood executives will see as an unmined gold that they’ll want to dig.
Some of the moviegoers who attended Thursday’s preview showings said they certainly hope that’s the case.
Zion resident Cora Colvin saw the film with her friend Lynda Crump of Wadsworth. The two loved it and would probably see it again at the theater, they said.
“I cannot remember a time when you saw an almost all-black cast, unless it was a Tyler Perry movie,” Colvin said.
That one of the strongest warriors in the film is a woman — and that instead of drugs and violence, there was a theme of loyalty — was what Colvin said she most enjoyed while watching.
“There was just a lot to take from this movie,” Colvin said.
The two friends also noted that the crowd of more than 200 people in their theater room was a mix of races.
“It was as mixed as you would see at any other Marvel movie. I think it speaks of how these type of movies can bring us together,” Crump said of the superhero films, which usually fare well at the box office.
Both friends have biracial children, the said, and see the film as a potential turning point for more positive films to be made with minority characters.
Analysts told the Washington Post that “Black Panther” surveys conducted ahead of the film’s release show not only strong interest from African-American audiences, but from white fans of the Marvel franchise.
That’s how a couple from Twin Lakes, Wis. who identify as Caucasian said they see it.
On Thursday, after Kelsey Saucerman and David Perion watched “Black Panther,” Perion said the film was hyped up to be something that catered to an African-American audience, but he bought his movie tickets two months ago because he’s a fan of the Marvel superhero comic books.
“Black Panther has always existed in the comics. I mean, he’s not a new character, he’s been around for a while. But it is nice to see that he got his movie where they show his backstory,” Perion said.
For 19-year-old Kenneth Tolliver of Zion, seeing the Black Panther character on the big screen felt like “a historic event” and is as unique as it’s been portrayed, he said.
“The movie has a lot of people who look like us, and it’s important because growing up you want to have someone to look up to,” Tolliver said. “I do think that something like this is needed in these times, and I’m happy Marvel was the one to do it.”
Tolliver added “I guess it’s something that tells us ‘You can be a superhero, too. No matter your color or your race.'”
Yadira Sanchez Olson is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.
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