STEM, Autonomy, and Social Responsibility in Black Panther

Following the massive success of Black Panther, Disney Studios plans to donate $1 million to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs at the Boys & Girls’ Club of America as a nod to the film’s emphasis of access to technology. Grossing over $400 million in box-office revenue worldwide, Black Panther has solidified its place in the Marvel Comic Universe not only as an iconic film but also as the most culturally impactful movie of its kind.

Black people across the world attended screenings for the “Black Panther Experience”, many dressing in dashikis, painting tribal art on their bodies, and hosting pre-movie events that included concessions, performance and networking opportunities. Influencers and celebrities around the country purchased entire theaters’ worth of movie tickets to supplement payment for underprivileged children. Black Panther proved to be far more than an experience — it was a testament to the power of representation.

In fact, Black Panther championed representation across multiple demographics, including women as innovators in technology. Shuri, the title character’s younger sister, is the brains behind the Black Panther operation. She designs his suit, his vehicles, his weapons, and she even performs life-threatening surgeries with the help of the technology she has mastered. Black Panther imagines a world of possibility for brown girls as leaders on the battlefield, in politics, and in the laboratory. And though this world is fictional, some of its elements have the potential to exist in reality, including a fully realized Africa with autonomy and access to wealth along with a world of women leading advancements in technology.

Black Panther imagines a world of possibility for brown girls as leaders...

In that vein, Disney decided to donate $1 million of the film’s earnings to the Boys & Girls’ Club of America to provide resources in STEM programs for underserved communities. It reflects the commitment declared by King T’Challa who, after battling his vengeful cousin, donated a community center emphasizing STEM research and programs in Oakland’s inner city.

Black Panther deserves a dissertation as proven by the hundreds of think pieces and reviews published in the wake of its premiere. One of the film’s primary themes is of social responsibility: who is responsible for the security of diasporic black people? On one hand, T’Challa believes that insolation is the best form of security. Wakanda, the fictional country where the story takes place, is untainted by colonial influence, having thwarted slave traders and completely isolating itself from the outside world as a means of self-preservation. Sharing resources means that Wakanda’s doors must open, leaving the country and its people vulnerable. Killmonger, T’Challa’s vengeful cousin (and potential heir to the Wakandan throne), takes a more radical approach through which he will grant black people access to advanced Wakandan weapons to reclaim their power and hold white colonialists accountable for the marginalization of black folks around the world.

Ryan Coogler, the film’s director, asks the audience what is more important: autonomy or security? And who is responsible for allowing black people access to either of those things? T’Challa realizes that both have profound benefits, and charges the political world with  repairing the damage of slavery and colonization by providing resources that will both free and secure marginalized populations.

This fictional example of reparations is perhaps not so far-fetched. Disney’s STEM program with the Boys & Girls’ Club paves the way for the development of tools that ultimately allow marginalized communities to access the autonomy and security Black Panther asks its viewers to consider.

Darius Moore
Written by
Darius Moore
Content and Engagement Coordinator
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