by Marcus Harrison Green
Pandemic anticipation for Marvel Studio’s Black Panther movie has stoked euphoria in school children, heavyweight think pieces from the New York Times, and the rolling out of black carpet in South Seattle.
No really. Extracting an air of Hollywood, Columbia City’s Arklodge Cinemas will switch out the traditional scarlet variety with black as it plays host to not one, but two premiere celebrations of the Black superhero on back-to-back days serving as a pop-up communal space for Seattle’s Black community.
“There’s so much energy around this movie. We’re really excited to show off Black Seattle,” says Jazmyn Scott, who along with her three business partner friends under the banner of 4USCollective, helped organize Thursday’s Black Panther screening.
Though the movie does not officially open in American theaters until Friday, February 16, Scott and her business partners were able to negotiate a deal with Arklodge owner David McCrae for a screening the night before.
“The organizers approached us early about buying out the Black Panther premiere night so the community could celebrate together and we only could say yes,” says McCrae, who sold out the theater to the 4USCollective at cost.
Under McCrae’s direction over the last five years, Arkoldge has consistently featured films either directed by Black filmmakers or featuring a predominantly black cast.
In fact, the Arklodge screened Black Panther director Ryan Coogler’s first film, the then little-known Fruitvale Station, a poignant documentation of the final day of Oscar Grant’s life prior to being killed by a San Francisco BART cop.
While Arklodge typically strays away from “check your brain at the door” blockbusters, destined for a quick death at the multiplex only to be later revived in a zombified state on Netflix, the Black Panther serves as the rare mixture of high-art and scintillating entertainment, according to McCrea.
“Coogler has made a big budget Black superhero movie while never forgetting his roots. Its opening scene is a tribute to Fruitvale Station and adds a poignancy to a Marvel film I don’t think I have ever experienced before,” he says.
While it’s impossible to hurl a digital stone without justifiably hitting a social media screed lauding the positive portrayal of black people in the movie, Scott says one under-discussed topic, at least in Seattle, is how the movie is acting as a vehicle to cultivate black space.
“We could have easily chosen to do this at Regal [Cinemas] or AMC Downtown, and even though this isn’t a black-owned establishment, it is a community establishment on the South End,” says Scott.
“We’re in a city where black spaces don’t really exist anymore because they’ve been eaten up by how rapidly Seattle’s changing. It’s the obligation of our community to create these spaces whenever and wherever we can,” says Scott.
By all indications, Scott and company are taking that self-imposed obligation seriously. On Thursday night, they will completely transform the interior of the Arklodge into Wakanda, the fictional homeland of the Black Panther.
Along with inviting attendees to dress as their favorite character and draping the theater in African inspired décor, they will also host a black business vendor market (The Wakanda market), which will sell clothing and promote health and wellness services.
“We didn’t want to just have everyone come together, watch the movie and then leave. We wanted to also support Black businesses currently without a brick and mortar shop.”
Proceeds from the event will go, fittingly, to a fund for the Seattle Black Panther Party’s 50th-anniversary celebration, which will take place in late April.
And while the 4USCollective have advertised Thursday as a Black community event anyone wishing to attend will be welcome.
“This is Seattle, we already know there are a lot of people with partners from different races. And all kind of people who want to see the movie. We’re just asking that people respect that we’re centering the black community,” she says.
Of course, there is the movie itself.
“There’s been Blade and other black superhero movies, but for the first time, we get a character who’s unapologetically black. The ability to see black people in our own light in a film is extraordinary. There’s a reason we don’t have this type of excitement for Madea’s Boo 2,” laughs Scott, referencing director/actor Tyler Perry’s ubiquitous low-brow films.
That excitement should translate to box-office success as entertainment newspaper Variety has reported that the film is expected to break the record for President’s Day weekend. Estimates for the films weekend haul range from $120 to $170 million. Locally several Friday showings are already sold out including at the Arklodge.
“I think when Hollywood sees that we put our dollars behind movies like this, they’ll be plenty more of them,” says Scott, who admits she wasn’t too familiar with the comic iteration of the hero prior to seeing the film’s trailer last year.
Not to be outdone, the creators of the popular podcast Hella Black Hella Seattle will host their own black centered screening of Black Panther the following day at Arklodge. The screening has been sold out for months.
Both events are only two of the numerous activities planned around Black Panther weekend. The Northwest African American Museum, Black & Tan Hall, and the Langston Hughes Theater will stage panels and after-parties. Local chapters of Black fraternities and sororities are also hosting screenings at theaters in downtown Seattle and Bellevue.
Scott says she expects the turn out for the events to “blow Seattle’s mind.”
“I think in keeping with the spirit of the Black Panther movie, this weekend will show that the Black community is its own hero,” says Scott. “If we want to save our community in this city, it’s up to us.”
A small number of tickets are still available for Thursday’s showing at www.wwseattle.com
Featured image by Susan Fried.