OAKLAND - JaVale McGee is into movies. Under different circumstances, he might have become the tallest director in the world. The Warriors’ 7-foot center wanted to major in film as a collegian, he said, but the University of Nevada didn’t have a film program. This season he has been videotaping a series called “Parking Lot Chronicles,” in which he interviews teammates, fans and random passers-by outside Oracle Arena.
JaVale McGee is into Marvel Comics, too. He has seen most of the company’s recent films, and he soaked up Marvel superheroes as a kid. Did he collect comic books?
“I didn’t really have room in my house to collect things, or the financial stability to do so,” he said with an arch smile. “But if I could have, I would have.”
JaVale McGee is into culture and politics, too. He started a nonprofit called Juglife that promotes proper hydration and raises money to help provide clean drinking water around the world. And while he might not be as professorial as David West or as biting as Andre Iguodala, McGee isn’t one to shy from political topics.
McGee’s passions converged Sunday afternoon at the corner of Grand and Lake Park avenues in Oakland, at the gorgeous, circa 1926 Grand Lake Theatre. He played host to 150 kids from East Bay Agency for Children for a screening of “Black Panther,” director Ryan Coogler’s visionary tribute to black potential. Each kid got a bag of popcorn and, McGee hoped, some perspective.
“I wanted to do it a while ago,” McGee said before the movie. “Time permitting, it had to be now, after the road trip. And I’m glad I could do it. It just felt right, because it’s an all-black movie, all-black director, and I just feel like that’s really empowering, especially for kids in the inner city to see seeing people of our color doing great things.”
McGee is not alone in his enthusiasm. “Black Panther” is a rousing action flick, with evocative sets and lavishly choreographed fight scenes that honor kung fu masters as much as crimestoppers. And that’s just the surface.
“Black Panther,” like Jordan Peele’s film “Get Out,” has emerged as a culture flashpoint for African-Americans. The director of “Black Panther” is black. (Coogler, previously best known for “Fruitvale Station,” grew up in Oakland.) Most of the cast is black. The mythical kingdom at the center of the film, Wakanda, is in the heart of Africa, and many of the costumes are based on African traditions. The soundtrack includes cuts by hip-hop artists like Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels and SOB X RBE.
And people are lapping it up.
With its third consecutive blockbuster weekend, “Black Panther” was expected to pass $900 million in gross ticket sales Sunday. It will shatter $1 billion next weekend, putting to rest the idea that “black movies” occupy too narrow of a niche to garner huge profits.
“And I love the way that the director was from Oakland,” McGee said. “He was like a real kid, and it shows anybody can do it with a chance. So you give somebody a budget, they could make it happen.”
But it’s more than that. “Black Panther” seems to be having a profound effect on its audience.