When she was younger, Kristina Ashley would watch South of Nowhere, a TV show about the life of a girl who struggled with her sexual orientation as she grew up. Ashley said she often felt alone as the only LGBTQ person in her family, but she found comfort in watching this show. It was something for her to turn to, something that made her feel less alone, even if it was “made up.”
“People tend to forget that these characters are based on real people and real events,” says Ashley, now a 27-year-old Apple store employee. “The names and situations might seem fictional, but the things they say and the emotions they feel are based on reality to some extent. When you see yourself or someone who looks like you and you hear them speaking messages you relate to so deeply on a wide screen… it just gives you a sense of, ‘Okay, yes, I am not alone, that makes sense and other people think the same way.’”
Ashley felt the same way again––inspired and deeply connected to community––after watching Black Panther, the first Marvel movie featuring an all-Black cast that shattered records with $218 million dollars in weekend box-office sales. She knows that Black Panther could be a South of Nowhere for so many kids today––a movie that speaks not only to the Black community, but also to the struggles and aspirations of Philadelphia youth.
That’s why—inspired by #BlackPantherChallenge out of Harlem—Ashley has raised over $11,000 through a GoFundMe page to send Philly school kids to see Black Panther. She read of New York’s Frederick Joseph last month, when he gained attention for raising more than $40,000 to take kids from Harlem’s Boys and Girls Club to the movie. He then issued the challenge to other cities, with words struck her as true: “All children deserve to believe they can save the world, go on adventures or accomplish the impossible…”
Since mid-January, Ashley’s GoFundMe has surpassed its original goal of $5,000 more than twice over. She is working with the Roxy Theater on Sansom Street. and the principals of several different schools in Philadelphia to take over 450 students to watch Black Panther over the course of the month.
Hers is now one of over 400 GoFundMes across the nation that, together, have raised over $620,000. As part of the campaign, any money that remains will be donated to public schools throughout the country. (Others in Philly, including Bethune Mary McLeod School principal Jamina Clay-Dingle, raised funds for her students, as well.)
“For me, the film is just really important in terms of representation,” Ashley says. “If you look at who we have in office, and the state of our country right now, I think it’s really important for children of color, primarily, to see themselves represented in a positive light.”
The opening weekend of Black Panther welcomed fans who wore Dashikis, and other traditional African clothing, to theaters across the country, while the movie pulls fashion and culture, from actual African communities: Everything from indzila, which are gold rings worn around the necks of married women in Ndeblee, South Africa, to lip plates of the Mursi culture in Ethiopia.
Ashley saw Black Panther as an inspiring and accurate representation of African culture, while the movie itself, gave people of African descent a unique opportunity to recognize and celebrate their culture. “If you think about it, this is the first time the Black community has been able to go to a theater and cosplay and celebrate who they are,” Ashley says. “Just like how people do for Star Wars or Harry Potter. They have never really been able to celebrate like that before.”
Beyond the the African-American community, Ashley says there is a message for everyone in Black Panther, especially Philadelphia’s youth. As a technology enthusiast, Ashley fell in love with one character called Shuri, a princess who is also phenomenal with technology. She said if there is even one young girl in the audience who looks at Shuri and decides that they want to work in technology or science, then it would have all been worth it.
“That’s all I am hoping for, to give them the inspiration or something to look up to or something they take away from this movie that gives them some kind of drive,” Ashley says. “I am very excited to see their reactions, and I am so grateful to every single person who has donated.”