As Marvel fans worldwide gear up for the highly-anticipated premiere of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Disney is honoring the movie’s characters, stars, and fans by supporting underrepresented communities working in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM).
During the film’s release week, Disney will donate $1 million in grants to several nonprofit organizations, including Ghetto Film School, Girls Who Code, The Hidden Genius Project, and DonorsChoose in the U.S.; Chicas en Tecnología in Argentina; and Destination Imagination in Asia. The initiative is part of the Disney Future Storytellers program, which engages in efforts to diversify creative fields.
“We train and mentor Black male youth in technology creation, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills to transform their lives and communities,” Denzel Russell, communications manager at The Hidden Genius Project, told Mashable. “Through Disney’s generous investment in our array of exposure-based youth programs in Oakland, Richmond, Los Angeles, and Detroit, we’ll be able to increase our capacity to reveal their brilliance and innate superpowers at the intersection of STEM, the arts, and entrepreneurship.”
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Disney Future Storytellers also provides support to the Propel Center, an education hub for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the Disney Storytellers Fund at Howard University, and the nonprofit ChickTech, which offers tech workshops and mentoring.
There’s a strong, intentional connection between the acclaimed superhero franchise and science fields, including the fictional Wakanda’s Afrofuturistic origins. And a lot of that ingrained legacy is credited to one of the film’s main characters, Shuri, who became an iconic representation of Black women in STEM with her life-saving and creative Vibranium-based technology.
Sonia, a current fellow at Ghetto Film School, spoke to the film’s representative power. “The movie applies a lot to Ghetto Film School because we’re continuously trying to tell stories that aren’t being told. We have an emphasis on people of color creators, women creators, and so it was inspiring to see that in this movie, because that’s what we’re trying to do in our own films we’re creating. And it was so beautiful to see so many strong women in the forefront.”
This is the second grant offering from Disney in its pledge to support young people in STEAM careers, following the studio’s 2018 Black Panther premiere. That year, the company announced it would donate $1 million to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “It’s fitting that we show our appreciation by helping advance STEM programs for youth, especially in underserved areas of the country, to give them the knowledge and tools to build the future they want,” said former Disney CEO Robert A. Iger at the time of the announcement.
“Something we live by at The Hidden Genius Project is ‘ubuntu’ – meaning that we are together, and we are one, forever,” explained Brendan, a student who participates with the nonprofit. “‘Wakanda Forever’ is a term of endearment and empowerment, where we realize, as a Black community, we can band together and liberate ourselves from the struggles that we have all over the world. This is more than just a fictional movie, it’s sending a message that we can build off of.”
The record-breaking success of Black Panther, and its cohort of empowered, complex Black characters, catapulted the technologically advanced universe depicted in the first film to public consciousness. Following the movie’s history-making box office numbers, critic ratings, and Academy Award nominations, Disney leaned into the community and culture that inspired the fictional Wakanda and its team, like director Ryan Coogler and the late star Chadwick Boseman. In 2019, the company even re-released the film for free to audiences for Black History Month and followed it up with a $1.5 million donation to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).
This year, the premiere of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever also included advanced community screenings in Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, Atlanta, and Orlando, in support of Disney’s nonprofit partners near and far. In combination with additional Target-hosted early screenings for local nonprofits at AMC Theaters, the initiative helped 25,000 young people access the film ahead of its theatrical release.
“When young people watch this film,” wrote Jennifer Cohen, executive vice president of corporate social responsibility for The Walt Disney Company, “we want them to walk away believing that their futures are boundless and being inspired to pursue their passions, grow their skills, and share their unique talents with the world.”