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'Black Panther' Breaks Records And Barriers In Debut Weekend

Costumed viewers pose before watching <em>Black Panther</em> in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday.

Black Panther pounced on the weekend box office, breaking cultural barriers and earning the highest debut ever for a February film, with an estimated three-day domestic gross of $192 million, said Disney, Marvel's parent company.

The opening was the fifth highest-earning of any film, according to Disney. The only other movies that have brought in more are Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Jurassic World and The Avengers, according to The Associated Press.

Black Panther's massive marketing campaign didn't hurt — The New York Times reports Disney spent nine months promoting it — but it also had the advantage of a built-in fan base. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the story to Marvel Comics' readers back in the 1960s.

Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa and Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia and is directed by Ryan Coogler. At age 31, Coogler helped make history. The Times reports Black Panther is the highest-grossing film ever by a black director.

The film has received stellar reviews from critics and audiences alike, with a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

It tells the story of T'Challa, described by Marvel as "righteous king, noble Avenger," who rules the fictional and technologically-rich African nation of Wakanda and finds his leadership put to the test.

Coogler told Morning Edition's David Greene that in this day and age, the medium of superhero films is myth-making. "That's why these movies make a lot money," he said. "That's why people talk about them, you know what I mean, people dress up as them."

Disney approved a $200 million production budget for Black Panther, reports the Times, a figure the film has already brought in and more, with an estimated $361 million raked in globally in its opening weekend.

Filmgoers the world-over also conveyed their enthusiasm by dressing the part, in Wakanda-inspired outfits.

For some, excitement over a film about a black super hero, alongside a largely black cast, directed by a black man, surpassed that of a typical blockbuster.

"Hollywood is lifting us up," writes CNN's Van Jones. "This film is a godsend that will lift the self-esteem of black children in the US and around the world for a long time."

Seventh grader Jaheim Hedge saw the film and told the Times, "For people of color, it shows us that we that we can get through any obstacles that are thrown at us if we work together. We can also help the world by sharing our resources."

The #BlackPantherChallenge, which began as a fundraiser to send children from Harlem, N.Y., to see the film, has spun into a wider campaign. GoFundMe says it has raised close to a half a million dollars so far to fund other kids who want to see the movie.

"There's a massive audience — not just of people of color but everybody — who wants to see different perspectives in this myth-making," Coogler told NPR. "They want to see something fresh, they want to see something new, but also feels very real."

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