More than just a box office hit: Harlem students share why 'Black Panther' is cultural phenomenon

HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- With a take of half a billion dollars around the world, "Black Panther" is a box-office phenomenon, but in many parts of the city it has already become more than just another blockbuster -- it's the movie that has become a milestone in the long march toward justice.

"It wasn't just a superhero movie to me," 16-year-old Makhila Cooke said. "It really started a conversation with a lot of things."

It's a conversation that has mobilized students and teachers at Harlem School of the Arts, where the buzz is all about "Wakanda Forever," said dance teacher Aubrey Lynch, who took his students to see the movie set in the fictional kingdom of Wakanda.

For Michelle Parker it was her third trip to see the movie in less than a week.

"I just had to," she explained. "It's just that amazing, you know?"

Being part of the scene is not just about what's on screen.

"You got to see all people of color in the theater wearing African attire -- exploring their roots and everything," 6th-grader Devin Graves said.

At their school, "Black Panther" was a hit even before it came out.

To spend time with these young people is to understand how inspiring it is for them to see a black superhero in such a prominent role.

"It wasn't the token black character. It was actually a token white character, and it felt like all the roles were finally reversed to our favor," 8th-grader Lucia Herndon said.

"In most movies we are poor and unintelligent, but in this movie we're beautiful," Graves said.

Ernest Hudson grew up reading "Black Panther" comic books and saw it with his wife and their two daughters. He said sharing that with them was something "so exciting for me as a kid: awesome."

And it's awesome so many of the roles are female.

Makhila Cooke chimed back in to say, "Growing up, there weren't a lot of influences like that, so now younger black girls have something to look forward to."

The hope is "Black Panther" could be a turning point, "because we've been ready," Subha Amed said while sitting beside her two kids. "And the way the sales went and the turnout went, it shows we've been ready, and we're ready for more so bring on the sequel."

The color Hollywood best understands is not white or black but green, and with "Black Panther" poised to set new box office records this weekend, the hope is the move toward greater diversity on the big screen can become permanent.

"Black Panther" is from Disney, which is owned by the same parent company as ABC 7.

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