Black Panther Movie, Disney & STEAM Education
Black Panther presents a unique trifecta within the film industry; it’s simultaneously culturally significant, critically praised, and a box-office giant. Culturally, one of the most significant differentiating factors is its emphasis on STEM, otherwise known as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The Princess of Wakanda’s, Shuri’s, depicted engagement with science makes a huge impact on her older brother T’Challa, otherwise known as the Black Panther, and significantly advances the plot. Young people across the world were inspired by Shuri and this got the attention of many institutions. Disney has decided to fund $1 million to develop STEM centers across the United States. One important oversight of this decision is Disney’s focus only the advancement of STEM, and not STEAM, or including the ‘A’ for ‘Arts,’ as well.
Without the implication of the arts, Black Panther the movie wouldn’t exist. There is a multitude of creatives that contributed to making the film (and the original comic book series as well). Writers, actors, designers, musicians and cinematographers, etc. employed creative skills to produce a new reality. Each of these artists played a significant part in bringing this movie to life. Without their imprint, we wouldn’t have experienced the cultural significance of the film. It’s ironic Disney wouldn’t make a conscious inclusive effort to fuel the next generation of creatives through the arts as well as a result of the film’s success.
Even though the lack of representation in the film industry has been a problem since the birth of film itself, it has become more debated in recent years due to movements such as #OscarsSoWhite and the public’s awareness of Hollywood’s whitewashing of roles. As shown by a study done by the University of Southern California, diversity throughout film has not gotten better at all. USC analyzed movie characters of the most popular movies from the past nine years and proved characters are just as white and male as they’ve always been. It’s critical to provide diverse next generation filmmakers opportunities and acknowledgement. The #seeher movement aims to impact such change for women and girls. If institutions like Disney would fund a STEAM center, it would service the stellar ideas of more students and lead to the possibility of more diversity in the future of media and beyond, including STEM/STEAM careers.
The arts present highly technical fields, which have proven to improve deeper learning and comprehension across other subjects. But, time and time again, schools across the nation are cutting the arts left and right. Investing in the next generation with a STEAM center would not only boost the generation of industries, but also would give the next Ryan Coogler, Baba Maal, or Chadwick Boseman the creative space to believe their dreams are also possible and important.
Companies like Disney, have the capital to fund and support not just scientific and technological advancements, but the creativity of the next generation. Limiting funding to STEM centers is an incredible oversight. Allocating funding for a STEAM center would not only support and validate the arts, but help the pursuit of other fields as well because of their inherent interdisciplinary nature.
Jacqueline Cofield, M.Ed. is an advocate for global arts education and founder of J Rêve International, and author of the book STEAM+ Arts Integration: Insights and Practical Applications.