Lea students to go on a field trip to Wakanda

In less than 24 hours, a GoFundMe campaign raised the money to take 3rd through 7th graders to the new "Black Panther" movie.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Thanks to donations from community members, all of Lea Elementary School’s 3rd- through 7th-grade students will get to see Marvel’s Black Panther in the theater.

After seeing the movie on Feb. 20 with Lea’s 8th-grade class, Rich Liuzzi, Lea’s director of school-community partnerships, started a GoFundMe page to take other students to see the movie in hopes of inspiring discussions.

The plan was to raise $6,000 by the end of the month, but 24 hours after the campaign went live, it had met its goal. At last check, the total was $6,369. The money will go toward tickets and transportation.

"Seeing how people in our extended village here made this opportunity possible for our kids” is “really powerful,” Liuzzi said.

Growing up, Liuzzi was always a fan of superheroes, he said, but as he got older and especially as he began working in education, the problematic themes in their stories became more apparent to him. The mostly male superheroes were predominantly white, and some of the portrayals of women were sexist.

Black Panther, however, is different. It’s the first comic book movie to feature an African superhero and a predominantly black cast, where women stand equally alongside men, and Liuzzi saw a teaching opportunity for other classes, too.

“After seeing the film and seeing how it portrays its characters, seeing the themes that it tackles and tries to grapple with, I just felt very strongly that this is a piece of popular entertainment that can teach" kids, educators, and family members things that they should be learning, he said.

Aja Graydon-Dantzler, a Lea parent who organized the initial trip that inspired Liuzzi’s GoFundMe idea, said the movie offered positive lessons reminiscent of the cartoons she grew up watching, such as Fat Albert.

“For black children, especially African American children,” she said, “being able to have fun and at the same time be thrown questions like that and walk out of there thinking about those kinds of themes as a kid, especially as an African American child, almost never happens.”

Since it was announced two years ago that Black Panther would be the next superhero to hit the big screen, with direction from Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station), the film generated unprecedented hype on social media. That anticipation translated into the second-biggest opening for a four-day weekend in movie history after Star Wars: The Force Awakens, generating more than $420 million worldwide, putting the film on pace to make $1 billion.

But aside from its commercial success, it has been a landmark moment in pop culture. Black moviegoers of all ages, both American and foreign, longing to see themselves represented alongside iconic superhero movie franchises like X-Men, Spider-Man, and Iron Man went to theaters in celebratory fashion, literally.

The movie is being heralded as an example of the importance of representation in mass media. Graydon-Dantzler said that after seeing the movie, one of her sons bought a doll modeled after one of the women characters, something that isn’t typical for young boys.

Tiguida Kaba, an 8th-grade student at Lea, whose parents are from Senegal, said she was inspired by the way the movie represented African culture and challenged long-held stereotypes about the continent.

“Africa is not really seen for how it really is,” she said. “And this movie shows different things like the culture, the sunset, the different climates in the mountains and things like that." Kaba is set to attend the High School for the Creative & Performing Arts next year to study MDTV (Media, Design, Television, and Video).

“I felt like it kind of inspired me because I have this interest in film and it [shows] me if I want to become a film director or producer, I can do that,” Kaba said.