Marvel’s Black Panther has been an unprecedented success, and not just at the box office. Hailed by critics as taking superhero cinema to “thrilling new heights”, it’s also receiving praise for what it depicts. From the clear landmark nature of this blockbuster movie and what it means for representation, to its portrayal of a scientifically advanced nation filled to the brim with remarkable, diverse academic minds, it's proving to be an inspiration to many.
Far from just letting the movie’s fictional technological nation of Wakanda do the inspiring, The Walt Disney Company has announced that it’s using the flick’s box office takings to help support a science education initiative or two in the US, one aimed squarely at kids.
As first reported by Coming Soon, the one-time $1 million donation will be made to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), which will go toward expanding its youth STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs.
Not only that, but several new STEM Centers of Innovation, those that provide kids with hands-on experience with cutting-edge technologies and contact with STEM experts, will also be set up around the country – something that happens to echo the movie’s final, touching scene. In total, 12 will be founded in various cities, including in Atlanta, Orlando, Baltimore, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Oakland.
When it comes to the world of STEM, it’s hard to argue that – thanks to societal expectations, discrimination, and systematic bias – women and girls don't have a far tougher time than their male counterparts. Despite the regularity of reports noting that girls are far less likely to go into, and remain in, STEM or STEM-related fields of study, little seems to be changing on the ground.
Science in the US is already under siege thanks to the current federal government’s apathy or downright aggression towards it. Long-term STEM careers are hard enough to come by as it is, but if you’re female, if you have a disability, or if you belong to a minority, you face far more of an uphill struggle. As it stands, the American scientific workforce doesn’t accurately represent the demographics of the wider society.
As noted over at WIRED, in Black Panther, “the future is female”. Putting aside the protagonist and primary antagonist for a moment, it’s certainly worth remembering that the key characters in the movie are all women, from the technologists and scientists to the king’s advisers and bodyguards.
How appropriate, then, that funds from the movie are going toward opening a STEM center at a time when girls – particularly those belonging to minorities – are discouraged or pushed out of such careers. Here’s hoping that it makes a genuine difference at a time when the odds are inexcusably stacked against them.