On Feb. 17, Melissa Foster, the Faculty-in-Residence for Shepard Hall and 1838 Chicago, invited a group of students in her residential community to see Ryan Coogler’s Marvel blockbuster, Black Panther, during its opening weekend. Before the show, guests swarmed her home in Shepard for a Hecky’s Barbecue dinner including baked mac & cheese, scrumptious cornbread, finger-licking wings, and an overwhelming selection of pies. Smiling faces erupted all over the room while students met new people, connected with neighbors, and sat next to their friends. There was also a guest of honor at dinner: Terry Gant, owner of Third Coast Comics in Chicago. To get students oriented and hyped to see Black Panther, Foster invited Gant to do a pre-screening “fireside” about the relevance of the film, the importance of representation, and the history behind the comic turned movie.
Foster arranged this event to encourage students to take a break and get off campus during midterm season. “Hosting a full, evening long event on a Saturday night would really allow interested residents to de-stress as well as come together for dinner, an educational speaker, and a movie in town,” said Foster.
Anna White, a sophomore in Weinberg and “action movie fan,” was growing in excitement as she and other students prepared to head off for the screening. “It’s a free opportunity to go watch Black Panther, so I definitely wanted to see it, but this way I get to do it for free.” said White.
White was not alone in her enthusiasm. Students crowded Foster’s living room as they tried to get a great view of Gant. Students found seats on the floor, huddled along the walls, and found room wherever they could to hear the comic book owner speak. “This is fantastic. It was a really nice turnout . . . I wasn’t sure how many students there would be, but I was definitely into the room being filled with so many people curious about comics and the story of Black Panther,” said Gant.
When asked what students should take away from the afro-futuristic movie, Gant said “I hope the students come out of the movie and think about being creative . . . Use their voices to tell their stories in ways that don’t have to be built upon what others have done. Be brave.”
The students were receiving more than a movie ticket. Black Panther was a story about unity and empowerment. After the movie, students were laughing over the best jokes, comparing themselves to their favorite characters, and taking photos together by the movie displays.
Yet, even before the show, the event had managed to draw the students closer to each other and their Faculty-in-Residence. Similar to the Dora Milaje, T’Challa’s powerful army, Melissa Foster gathered her own group of super students to make the event a success. “This was a team effort. Some students talked to the speaker and made him feel welcome while I was occupied with the catering delivery. Others helped clean up so we could quickly transition from dinner to the outing. Others ran and got great places in line. Others saved seats so we could all be together. It's truly a community. I know that, and I see that often, but this event was the epitome of the neighborhood being exactly that,” said Foster.
The students might have headed back to their separate res halls after the show, but one thing remains certain – after a long night of fun and bonding, it is truly Wakanda forever.