Black Panther is breaking box office records and setting social media ablaze. The story of King T’Challa and the fictional African nation of Wakanda was first introduced in July 1966, but it seems to have a special relevance today, as educators and parents are using the film to talk to children about our race, power, and history.
We wanted to explore the ways in which students can engage with Black Panther, so we asked Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty, staff, and students about its significance, popularity, and educational potential.
Why is it significant that Black Panther has been adapted into a film?
Jabari Sellers, graduate student and expert in the use of comics to improve literary skills: Black Panther provides many different demographics the opportunity to see themselves on the big screen in a new way. While Black Panther is neither the first predominantly black film nor the first black superhero film, the full financial backing of the Disney Marvel cinematic universe allows for the portrayal of black life and black fantasy on a scale many have not seen before. The power of the film, in addition to its great storytelling, is the experience of identity validation. Much like Wonder Woman in 2017, Black Panther not only provides marginalized communities the chance to see people who look like them in a fantastic, bright, and energized comic universe — it also challenges notions of the value and possibility of non-white, non-male-focused storytelling.
How might educators use cross-media approaches to build literacy skills and engagement?
Randy Testa, associate director, preK–16 programs, Professional Education: I recently came across a poster that read, “In a society, it is the storytellers who have all the power.” If this true, then cross-media tactics can help students tell, retell, and create their own stories as a means of access to that power called “education.” Exploring what happens when a story moves from one media platform to another (thus, “cross-media”) affords educators the opportunity to promote deep comprehension and perspective-taking.
One way to guide a discussion is to think through the three E’s with students: education, ethics, and [a]esthetics (or entertainment).
- Education: What is the overall merit of the use of story in school? How is it building comprehension and vocabulary?
- Ethics: How can the story help students in their perspective-taking and examination of moral dilemmas?
- [A]esthetics: What do students find to be the most compelling elements of the story? How can we analyze the artistic forms that a story takes in order to understand how those forms communicate meaning? How do we understand scenes differently through a book and through a film?