Shani Leaad

About a month before Black Panther was scheduled to hit big screens last year, New Yorker Frederick Joseph went viral after creating a GoFundMe to take Harlem kids to see the now-iconic movie. His campaign rapidly soared past its goal and from there he created the #BlackPantherChallenge, encouraging as many people from as many locations across the US to take children from their communities to see the movie.

Over the span of weeks, about 600 different campaigns collectively raised $950,000, with celebrities such as Jemele Hill, Snoop Dogg, and Chelsea Clinton helping spread awareness and offering contributions.

A lot has happened since last year, but Joseph is back at it again with another GoFundMe and another challenge, hoping this time to specifically uplift girls by taking them to see the highly anticipated Captain Marvel, which is scheduled to hit theatres in March.

Enter Part 2 of the Saga: The #CaptainMarvelChallenge.

“I saw how impactful the Black Panther, not just the challenge itself but the film was of course, and realistically there’s a ton of important representation packed into Captain Marvel and I’m not sure that the average consumer knows it yet. But they will,” Joseph told ESSENCE during a phone interview.

“Because of representation I knew that I wanted to take some young girls to see it, and specifically some young girls of color because though the star of the film is a white woman (Brie Larson), there’s also, for instance, the first representation of a Black woman (Lashana Lynch) as a fighter pilot in a major film and whose daughter also becomes the next Captain Marvel,” Joseph added. “There’s a ton of really important things. The messaging around it and the intersectionality of the friendship between the Black woman and the white woman and all this other stuff that’s not even talking about Captain Marvel the character herself yet.”

Out of the traction from the #BlackPantherChallenge, Joseph fed his brainchild, an organization which he founded called We Have Stories, to support and create diverse initiatives, projects, diverse stories, and storytelling.

“I thought to myself there needs to be something that can help fundamentally move the needle on representation outside of the moment and maybe focus on a movement,” Joseph mused. “So we created this organization that is inherently intersectional and works to support and create initiatives that will show that it’s not just about Black Panther and Captain Marvel. It’s about those no longer being the exception but rather the rule.”

We Have Stories chose Girls Inc. LA as their organization to benefit from the donations. The nonprofit helps provide support and programming for Title I schools in  South Los Angeles, Compton, and Watts California, aiding its participants, many of whom are considered “at risk” due to circumstances beyond the girls’ control: family poverty, gang surroundings, even homelessness.

There are other key factors that have driven Joseph to make a big push for the girls at Girls Inc. to see the movie and hopefully experience some joy and maybe even validation and inspiration.

“[Captain Marvel’s] not your archetype of what even a female superhero’s supposed to be,” Joseph pointed out. “She’s not wearing a skirt. She’s not wearing a bustier. She’s in an actual suit. Her role in her regular life, she’s a fighter pilot and before that she was a softball player. Even more important than some of those aspects, she’s also the most powerful person that’s going to be in this universe, which is a very, very deep, deep, deep thing. It’s on par kind of even in Black Panther they came out and said Shuri is the smartest person in that universe. So now you have in this Marvel Universe that they’ve created the strongest person is a woman and the smartest person is a woman.”

Not only that, the film is co-directed and scored by women, it’s Marvel Studio’s first woman-led film, the film is set to be released on International Woman’s Day during Women’s History Month. The studio is clearly trying to send a message.

“Marvel is a culture, so that’s saying a super huge thing that a woman is the most powerful person in here. We’re hoping that women and girls, and boys, just anyone will be inspired by seeing women in these strong roles,” Morinsola Keshinro, the managing director of We Have Stories told ESSENCE. “Of course, we haven’t seen the film yet, but just from the storytelling standpoint, especially with a woman being the director, just the lens that that will come from, or the lens that we’ll see this movie through will be different than other films that have been developed.”

“Maybe you don’t want to be an actress, but maybe in the film, they’ll see a woman who’s a pilot or they’ll see or hear that a woman did the score and they’re into music. They’re like, that’s something that women can do. I believe the stat is that less than 1% of women were in composing, so just being able to inspire girls,” she added.

So far, the fundraiser, launched under We Have Stories, has raised $34,779, crushing its goal of $20,000 after more than 1,016 people contributed over the past 22 days.

Joseph notes that there are new campaigns that are popping up across the states, and one even in Toronto, so the plan is to take as many girls as possible to see the movie.

Extra funds collected from the endeavor will go to supporting programmatic efforts at Girl’s Inc., as well as toward We Have Stories’ efforts to donate money to people to help create diverse projects like Black Panther and Captain Marvel.

And hopefully, with movies like Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and – if we look out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Crazy Rich Asians, the tired Hollywood trope of their not being the right actors, stuntmen and stuntwomen, cinematographers, directors, etc, will once and for all go away.

“I hope that the excuses that are being used, and have been used, to limit people definitely fade away. I think as more conversations take place, people recognize that maybe some of the things that we were told in the past about why things couldn’t happen, or who wasn’t producing great work, or who wasn’t given an opportunity, or if they were given an opportunity, they didn’t perform in the way that we believed they should have performed, will be something that we continue to dig into and find the fault in,” Keshinro said.

That is also Joseph’s hope, and one of the main reasons he founded We Have Stories in the first place.

“We hope that this Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Crazy Rich Asians effect starts to trickle down into more than just film. It starts to trickle down into understanding or planting the seed that people from marginalized communities can do things that people are assuming that we can’t at times,” Joseph said. “We’re actually hoping that people will get out there and support these diverse projects and eventually we hope that they’re not diversity, they’re just the norm. We hope that people understand and support our goals to make that happen.”

He added: “I hope that people understand the importance of representation and how that can actually change the world.”

 

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the accurate number of campaigns and money raised over the time period of the #BlackPantherChallenge

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