(AP) – The vibrant African fashion of Black Panther was on display at multiplexes around the country Feb. 15 as moviegoers flocked to the first showings of Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster. There were attendees in all-black or black formal attire, but what stood out most were those in traditional African shirts, suites, dresses, head wraps and more.
Some opted to make their own clothes to celebrate the arrival of a superhero many Black moviegoers said provided an opportunity for them to celebrate their heritage in a way they haven’t been able to before.
“We’re excited because we get representation in a film that’s not about slavery, that’s not about trials and tribulations, but about a powerful African empire, which is where we come from in the first place,” said tattoo artist Elisheba Mrozik, who attended one of the first showings of the film in Nashville.
She wore a flowing shoulderless black gown that was broken up by patterns of purple and yellow designs that she said was made in Nigeria and that she bought for the film’s release and Black History Month.
“Somebody that looks like me is a superhero and nobody is whitewashing it. And it’s beautiful,” she said.
In the nearly 10 years since Marvel’s Iron Man sparked sprawling film superhero universes, there have been plenty of chances for fans to wear clothes that pay homage to favorites such as Spider-Man, Batman, the Hulk and more.
But Black Panther has sparked something different – an opportunity for Black moviegoers to watch a superhero who not only looks like them, but also introduces a different view of Africa than has traditionally been seen at theaters. Set in the fictional nation of Wakanda, a technologically advanced oasis that has never been colonized, the film has been praised for its vision of Afrofuturism, strong and smart female characters and a story that shatters stereotypes about the continent and its people.
The film earned $25.2 million in Thursday showings, making it the biggest debut of a February release and the second-largest early opening of a Marvel Studios feature.
At an early showing at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theater, Segun Begunrin and his family wore a bright purple outfit that had special meaning to them.
“This particular fabric meant something personally to me, because it was the fabric that we selected for my father’s funeral. So we did it for the celebration of his life. So it’s a form of celebration for the movie,” he said.
Jacob Taylor also attended an early show in Los Angeles and said the impact of Black Panther extends beyond the African American community.
“I think it is very indicative of where we are as a culture,” he said. “The push for diversity, inclusion, equal pay – all of that. So, I think it’s just timely.”
At a showing in New York’s Times Square, Miquain Gainey wore a Basotho blanket used by the Bantu tribe in South Africa.
“It’s featured very prominently in the film, and its cultural heritage,” he said. Gainey said he wanted something fashionable that fit the film, but he also wanted to stay warm.
Kiara Citron, who is a huge Marvel Comics fan and had a Deadpool-themed wedding, was at the same theater and wore a bright blue satin gown she spent a week sewing, using some leftover fabric for a matching head wrap.
“I just made something for the occasion because I’ve never had an opportunity for this before,” she said. “I’ve never gone to a theater to see a film like this before, so I just really needed to go all out.”
In Nashville, Latarsher White and her family wore custom-made African gowns and suits to a Nashville theater because it made them feel connected to their heritage.
“It’s just an opportunity to explore those regal roots and to know that some of us do come from royalty,” she said. “It’s bigger than what we see every day and what’s represented. It’s just connecting to your heritage and that royal lineage to a degree. And so it’s always good to play dress- up.”
Kermit El-Amin, 25, wore his African tribal prints to work before watching the film in Nashville.
“I wanted to make sure that people knew that I really felt comfortable,” El-Amin said. “Feel comfortable in the skin that I am in and feel comfortable doing things like this.”
Ronald Simmons, founder of YouDontReadComics.com, sported a Black Panther T-shirt to a Times Square show Thursday night. He said he expected Black Panther to be life-changing for many fans, especially children.
“If I was a kid, and I saw Black Panther, that would have been great,” he said. “I grew up in a lot of heroes and none of them look like me at all. And I still love those heroes, but I can imagine being a kid and seeing, you know, a character that looked like me. I would be pretty hyped.”
Rick Taber, John Carucci and Kristin M. Hall/Associated Press contributed to this report.