By Mackenna Cummings
Last June, the trailer teaser for Marvel’s Black Panther—not even the full trailer—racked up 89 million views in 24 hours. Twitter called it one of the most tweeted-about films of 2017, though it wouldn’t open until February 2018, with hashtags #BlackPantherSoLit and #WelcomeToWakanda. The Boys & Girls Club of Harlem held a fund-raiser to arrange a private screening, others planned viewing parties. It was a sign of things to come.
This year, Black Panther is shattering box office records as the third highest grossing film in the country, bringing in almost $700 million in its first 10 weeks in theaters. Essentially a stand-alone movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it broke the opening weekend record for a non-sequel/prequel, earning $202 million its first week out. That number also gave Black Panther the new record for a solo superhero week one debut, topping the $174 million opening weekend of Iron Man 3.
Marvel Comics’s character Black Panther was originally conceived in 1966 by creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a way to give black readers a character to identify with. The movie Black Panther tells the story of young T’Challa, who, after the death of his father, the king of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated high-tech African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful enemy reappears, T’Challa’s strength and authority as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he’s drawn into a dire conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. T’Challa must release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
“It’s the first time in a very long time that we’re seeing a film with centered black people, where we have a lot of agency,” says Jamie Broadnax, the founder of Black Girl Nerds, a pop-culture site focused on sci-fi and comic-book fandoms, in an interview with the New York Times. These characters, she notes, “are rulers of a kingdom, inventors and creators of advanced technology. We’re not dealing with black pain, and black suffering, and black poverty.”
Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri in the movie, hopes that it inspires young girls to pursue STEM, especially considering that women of color currently make up less than 10 percent of the working scientists and engineers in the United States.
The impact of the movie is not limited to inspiration. To celebrate the success of the film, Disney donated $1 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America for the STEM education programs. Through these programs, children have access to technology like 3D printers, robotics, and high definition film equipment, similar to the tech used to create the movie.
The film is giving minorities a platform to not only be included in STEM but to be STEM leaders. It is building upon a movement that so many others are contributing to and highlighting their work. According to a study done by the National Science Foundation (NSF), a sense of belonging is key to retention for minorities in STEM. Underrepresented groups need to feel that they belong in their STEM courses and workplace to stay in it and Black Panther is getting to the core of that by representing a woman of color as the leader of STEM in a technologically driven nation. Below are ten movements and movers that, like Black Panther, are impacting underrepresented groups in STEM every day.
Individuals and STEM
Kimberly Bryant, a successful engineer, started a movement in 2011 that has now impacted thousands of young girls. When Bryant started her career as a computer engineer, she was one of few women let alone persons of color in her courses. But, years later, when her own daughter pursued STEM at a summer camp, she was amazed to find the classroom unchanged in representation. Inspired by this revelation, she began teaching her daughter and daughter’s friends to code, which led her to launch Black Girls Code. The nonprofit now has chapters across the nation and outside of the U.S. and continues to impact the lives of young black girls by giving them access to computer science education.
Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, has paved the way for young women of color to pursue their dream of being an astronaut. But she is not only leading by example. Jemison co-founded, along with her siblings, The Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, in honor of their late mother. The foundation assists in bettering education for STEM and has several programs that promote scientific literacy for students and teamwork and problem-solving.
Jamie Bracey, the Director of STEM Education, Outreach, and Research for Temple University, is working hard to help foster STEM education not only across the United States but also in her home state of Pennsylvania. She was inspired to start a movement after seeing so many students from local communities struggle because of the lack of education and support. In partnership with programs like the Pennsylvania Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement, she works to foster interest in STEM fields and education in middle and high school students. Recently, Bracey decided she needed to do more. Earlier this year, she helped launch the Center for Inclusive Competitiveness at Temple University. This center will serve as a collaborative STEM outreach program supporting underserved communities.
Dr. Anna Powers is empowering young women in their pursuit of STEM through her Powers Education program. While teaching at a university, Powers saw many women discouraged in STEM because their confidence was diminished—they didn’t believe they could succeed. Because of this, Powers Education revolves around building the confidence of women in science by teaching science through intuition over memorization. Powers also emphasizes that failure is part of the path to success, helping women not be discouraged but empowered by taking risks and trying again.
Corlis Murray is a leading engineer for Abbott, but when she pursued her career the majority of her community did not understand the field she was entering. Now, she is role model for other young women of color hoping to break into a field that is still typically male. Murray believes that one of the best ways for the lack of diversity in STEM to change is for companies to invest in these underrepresented communities to provide access to education and opportunities. With Abbott, Murray launched their high school STEM internship program, because she feels it is her job to care and help where she has the option to. She has created a movement from her success and love of STEM.
Education and STEM
Cal Poly Pomona’s Femineer movement is connecting schools and high school girls to STEM. The program, founded at the university, so far has been able to provide 41 K–12 schools with access to STEM curriculums and female engineer mentors to inspire more women to pursue STEM. This is a movement that makes other movements, because participating schools like Ramona High School in Ramona, California, have not let the Femineer program end with their high school participants. Femineers at Ramona High have taken what they have learned and gone to the kindergarten classes to inspire young woman to pursue STEM.
Companies and STEM
Over the next five years, Verizon will be donating $400 million to 200 middle school STEM programs. Their goal is to give five million students access to free STEM education, technology, and teacher training. Schools will be selected through public nominations on social media using the hashtag #humanability. CEO Lowell McAdam said in a statement, “Our mission, which we call Humanability, is to give people the ability to do more in this world—that’s why it’s paramount we invest to give kids the technology education and resources they need to succeed.” By the year 2020, millions of students across the nation will experience the effects of Verizon’s humanibility.
Ford Motor Companies also believes the way to change is to invest in underrepresented communities. They have invested over $63 million in STEM programs for kids. Their STEAM Experience is one of these programs impacting education. Last year STEAM Experience allowed young women in the Detroit area to show off their quick thinking and innovative scientific skills by creating problem-solving inventions out of recycled materials. They are showing these young women that there is more to the field than meets the eye.
When discussing the impact, Alison Bazil, Ford’s business manager for vehicle components and system engineering, said, “It isn’t just about being good at math and science. If you like to be creative and inventive, solve problems and make things better, that’s really what engineering is all about.” The STEAM Experience Program is not only giving access to education but also opening the girls up to an opportunity they may have never before considered.
Organizations and STEM
The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) is building the community of Hispanics and Native Americans in STEM through its programs such as Chapter Leadership Institute (CLI) and annual conference. CLI connects local university students and gives them leadership skills that have allowed many to go back into their community and continue the movement. One CLI alum is helping first-generation students pursue a graduate education. The chapters also connect with each other to increase the impact on both schools positively.
Society of Women Engineers (SWE) not only hosts an annual conference to connect women engineers but also hosts an annual event called Invent It. Build It. This event supports girls from 6th to 12th grades, parents, and educators to engage with STEM and connect with resources and opportunities. The event moves locations to allow girls across the nation to access the event and continue to grow in STEM. One of the best aspects of the event is that it not only educates and engages these girls, but they also get to see what real-life opportunities are available for someone in an engineering career.
“Girls often do not associate engineering as a career path that allows them to help people, and they also lack confidence in STEM skills as compared to their male counterparts. Events like Invent it. Build it. are essential to show girls what an engineer looks like and instill the confidence that they, too, can be an engineer.”
For diversity to continue to grow in STEM, movers and movements such as these are crucial. Women and minorities need representation on and off the screen, as well as access to STEM education for these movements to continue to make strides. The stories above are just a few examples of the incredible things happening in the world of STEM, made possible because these STEM leaders took it upon themselves to make a difference and join the movement.
Ready for one more statistic on director Ryan Coogler’s wildly successful movie? Black Panther’s crushing $202 million first weekend was the biggest opening ever for any movie directed or produced by a person of color. It easily beat out James Wan’s Furious 7, the 2015 action film with a diverse cast that earned $147 million its first weekend. May this victory be a sign of more box office magic to come from filmmakers from all backgrounds.