Reel Commentary | My Black Panther Experience

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

Rarely it happens but sometimes I miss a screening and I have to go to the theater to see a movie on opening day. Normally when this happens, I catch the movie at the first or second showing of Friday morning (matinee prices!). Usually, the cinema is mostly empty so I can take notes on my tablet without worrying about bothering others with a lighted screen. I was disappointed when a conflict in my schedule did not allow me to see the Black Panther at the screening earlier in the week but I felt confident in my contingency plan and its execution. I checked the theater website the Thursday night and saw that there were plenty of seats in the morning. Again I was confident.

When I arrived at the theater on Friday morning, I knew something very different was happening.

My normal parking spot was not available. In fact, there were no spots on that row. Or the one behind it. Or the one behind that one. I found myself parking about five rows away from where I usually park to find a good spot. With fifteen minutes prior to the start time of the second movie of the day. I found myself pressing to walk past several couples of more mature African-American men and women to enter the theater quickly. It made sense who I was passing on my way there because everyone else should have either been in school or at work. Once inside the theater, I found myself about five people deep in a line for the one ticket seller. I noticed the manager standing over by the entrance taking tickets. I glanced at him shrugged my shoulders and raised my hands in question. She smiled at me and simply mouthed the words “Black Panther.”

I got to the front of the line with about five minutes before the start of the movie. “How many seats are there left for the 10:30?” I asked. “There are a few left” the reply came. Knowing that the next movie would start in only thirty minutes but would probably end around 1:30 pm, I decided to squeeze into the show. I got my 3D glasses and flew by the packed concession stand to theater #7. Clearly, the concessions stand was not ready for the surprising influx of patrons this morning either. Bracing myself, I opened the door to the room and walked in. I still was not prepared. I was blessed though because as I scanned the room for a chair, I saw, on the seventh row, a seat with a white cover over it stating that the seat was broken. Directly to the right of that seat, was one empty seat. Thankfully, the couple must have thought the seat beside the broken one would probably be a problem too. The cupholder was broken but since I neglected the long line, I had no popcorn or soda to worry about. I quickly excused myself across the front of four couples and successfully dropped down into the almost perfectly centered seat.

I was not alive for Woodstock. I did not see any of the moon landings. It had been a very long time since I had been part of such a momentous, communal occasion like this was for Black people, maybe going back to The Color Purple. The crowd cheered and jeered. They oohed and ahhed. They talked and laughed. And at the end they applauded. We all did. Because what we had seen, what we had all experienced together, was simply glorious!