'Black Panther Challenge' reaches Ottawa children's groups

A viral campaign to give low-income and racialized children free screenings of Marvel's film featuring a lead black superhero is now happening in Ottawa.

New film feature black lead superhero in departure from genre

Marvel's Black Panther is being seen by many as an empowering social statement. (Marvel Studios)

A viral fundraising campaign that started in New York's Harlem neighbourhood has spread to Ottawa, raising enough money for more than 200 children to attend a free, private screening of Marvel Comic's latest superhero movie, Black Panther.

Marvel casts first black lead superhero

It's the first time Marvel has featured a black lead superhero, and the film's cast, writers and director are also mostly black. As well, the movie's plot is widely seen as an empowering social statement. It's set in a hidden African nation that has never been colonized or enslaved, and it questions what would happen if such a nation were left to fulfil its own potential.

A man claiming to be the creator of the #BlackPantherChallenge has been generating attention for the fundraising campaign on social media, including from Hollywood stars. (Twitter/@FredTJoseph)

A New York resident was so taken by the film's message he created an online funding drive to provide a free-screening for the Boys and Girls Club in Harlem. Within days, he had created the "Black Panther Challenge" — a call for others to help low-income or racialized children see the film in communities around the world.

The initiative caught on among Hollywood stars and has now raised hundreds of thousands of dollars worldwide, including in cities across Canada.

The Rise Initiative, a local non-profit in Ottawa, has now raised enough money to offer its own free screening in Ottawa on Saturday. They are expecting more than 250 children, including some from the Children's Aid Society and the Boys and Girls Club.

Tasia Brown is co-founder of the Rise Initiative, a local non-profit that aims to make change at the local level through projects like this one. (Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco/CBC)

"There's so many great messages in terms of representation, inclusion, having powerful women as well, particularly in today's political climate," said Rise Initiative co-founder Tasia Brown. "We've kept it open to all youth but of course we'd love to see as many racialized youth, because it's super important for racialized youth to be able to see superheros that look just like them on the screen."

At the premiere Friday night, young children and their parents could be seen leaving the theatre visibly excited.

Brycen Simms, 10, says he was excited to see the movie, especially one featuring a black superhero.

"It really meant a lot because I've never seen a black Marvel hero and then I see all these Marvel commercials and I see Black Panther and I'm surprised. I'm like 'What? A black Marvel person?' I feel really inspired by that movie," said 10-year-old Brycen Simms.

Film viewed as conversation starter

Parents at the premiere said the movie was also a conversation starter.

"As a mom we were going to have this conversation on the way home about how she could take charge of her life and overcome obstacles and it's a movie where you can actually think about it and take some things home and have some good conversations," said Rose Osman, who took her nine-year-old daughter Melissa to see the film.

Rose Osman took her daughter Melissa Ali, nine, to see the film. She says it has sparked important conversations.

Organizers with the Rise Initiative say they will be setting aside some time ahead of Saturday's screening to open up those conversations about diversity, representation, empowerment and following your dreams.

The fundraising has been so successful, they said, they are now considering holding a second screening for at-risk youth in the weeks to come.