- By Leslie Gray Streeter Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
“What are y’all wearing to ‘Black Panther?’”
The call went out weeks ago across social media, particularly on Twitter, about the premiere of director Ryan Coogler’s highly-anticipated cinematic version of Marvel’s King T’Challa and the fantastical kingdom of Wakanda.
Immediately, fans, whether readers of the original comic, followers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or just people excited about a rare example of representation, started planning their outfits for last weekend’s premiere, which netted more than $370 million worldwide.
And the result, around the world and in Palm Beach County, was an impressive combination of cosplay, comic-inspired T-shirts and the Ebony Fashion Fair. To folks like Tequesta’s Dannemart Pierre, taking part visually in the hoopla surrounding the highest-earning film with a black director and mostly black cast was just the proper thing to do.
MORE PHOTOS: From the ‘Black Panther’ premiere at CityPlace
“Honestly, I felt like we had been called to something - (a plea) for positive representation - and we needed to respond appropriately, with pride and joy and all the regal fare we had been burying,” said Pierre, a “huge Marvel fan” and proud Haitian-American, whose mother made the intricately embroidered-print skirt she wore to Thursday’s opening night at Cinepolis Luxury Cinema in Jupiter. “I grew up understanding that the proper response to an invitation is to show your host honor by dressing appropriately for the occasion.”
Obviously, “Black Panther” fans aren’t the first people to show up dressed specifically for a movie - in 2015 the Cinepolis premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” featured mock Jedi, Stormtroopers and a dude in a BB-8 helmet. But as Pierre says, “Black Panther,” whose fictional kingdom is a secret high-tech powerhouse never colonized by Europeans, is more than just a movie. It’s an unapologetic celebration of cultures seldom seen in a blockbuster movie, that many say couldn’t have come at a better time.
“The nation is so divided,” said Cheralyn Joseph of West Palm Beach, who wore her hair braided with gold accents to the CityPlace premiere. “I wanted to represent, because as a people this gives us hope.”
The opening day audiences at CityPlace were culturally diverse, but the fans wearing themed outfits appeared to be exclusively African-American or of African descent. Perhaps, many say, it’s because “Black Panther” offered fans of color a hero, and a royal at that, who looked like them.
And the movie expands on that theme, with its gorgeous array of actors, from Boseman to the legendary Angela Bassett and Forrest Whitaker to current “This Is Us” darling Sterling K. Brown. These actors and their characters are front and center, rather than in the background or, as was the Hollywood tradition for years in movies set on the African continent like “Blood Diamond” and “Cry Freedom,” sidekicks in their own stories.
Lakeith Campbell of Riviera Beach, who sported a hoodie depicting T’Challa in his Black Panther outfit with a gold crown cocked jauntily above his mask, discovered the Wakandan universe at 12 years old, when “my white best friend said ‘You ever heard of ‘Black Panther?’ I read it and thought ‘That’s cool.’”
Emmanuel Champagne, who bought matching “Black Panther” T-shirts at Spencer Gifts for himself and girlfriend Ashley Nerette, said he’s been in the audience for the opening day of several Marvel movies, and speaks with the enthusiastic cadence of a Marvel superfan.
But this movie, he said, was special: “I’m happy to see so many people excited about it. When people think of superheroes, they think of Superman and Batman. Now there’s a variety of superheroes.”
Fans’ sartorial expressions varied - Bridgette Hill of Delray Beach, salon creative director of the Four Seasons Palm Beach Resort and Spa, crafted a “Palm Beach resort with a Wakanda moment look” with a large carved leaf necklace, and a leather shirt and jacket. Cousin Nicole Wesley of Port St. Lucie did all-black leather, “because of the all-black cast and a tribute to African culture.” And Halima King of Washington, D.C., whose nephew Jabari Exum was the drumming choreographer on the film, took it back to the ’60s with her brightly-colored dashiki.
“I wear African clothes every day,” said King, who was in town visiting family. “It feels like Panther Nation!”
Perhaps no one at the CityPlace premiere invested more in his look than Henbo Squeazy, also known as “The Palm Beach Nigerian,” a West Palm Beach rapper, photographer and Instagram regular. The son of Nigerian immigrants, Squeazy had the “Black Panther” emblem shaved into the back of his hair by Northwood master barber Mad Scientist Nick. He accented it with a black and gold dashiki and a giant gold necklace with his name on it, like a comic-centric M.C. Hammer.
“I’m excited to see this kind of representation from the continent,” said Squeazy, who missed part of the pre-movie previews to let impressed fellow fans take photos of his head in the lobby. “I’m really enjoying this.”
Dannemart Pierre enjoyed the movie, too.
“It’s done really, really well. The characters have so much depth, the story-line speaks so much to culture, and makes us look at ourselves and ask some tough questions about how we respond in the face of crisis and need…The men and women are strong and intelligent and nurturing and complex and beautiful representations of what makes us human. What’s not to be excited about?”