Illustration by Jonny Wan
Illustration: Jonny Wan

What It Is

Panels, poetry readings, and, of course, cosplay, all inspired by the record-setting superhero flick Black Panther. Think Comic-Con for the black nerd set—with more depth: “We wanted this to be more than just about the film, but a space where black people could get together in the spirit of Wakanda and discuss what the future could look like,” says Ali Barthwell, a Second City instructor who founded the festival with her brothers, David and Matt. (She also recaps The Bachelor franchise for Vulture.)

What You’ll Hear

  • Carla M. Kupe-Arion, founder of the social justice organization the Impact Alliance, will lead a conversation on T’Challa’s pacifism versus Killmonger’s combativeness: a modern-day MLK versus Malcolm X—but with superpowers.
  • South Side slam poet Billy Tuggle will host a session on writing and Afrofuturism.
  • Billy Almon, a designer for the Disney theme parks, will talk about the role of biomimicry—that is, nature-inspired design—in Black Panther.
  • Other panels will focus on the film’s representation of black sisterhood, expressions of black queerness in pop culture, and practical advice for making a career in tech.

What You Won’t See

You know those bikini-clad women who draw visitors to exhibits at such events? Not gonna happen here. “We believe that ‘booth babes’ perpetuate a particular standard of beauty,” David Barthwell says.

Who Will Be There

Alas, no Chadwick Boseman, but Mark Willis, an Oak Park and River Forest High School alum, will talk about his 12-hour days in the sweltering Georgia heat playing a Jabari warrior in the film’s epic battle scene. “The finished product looked entirely different than when we were filming it,” Willis says. “It was like, ‘Whoa, so that’s what the rhino that almost ran me over looks like. I remember when you were a horse!’ ” Also in the house: Black Panther costume designers, video game developers, and local casting agents.

What to Wear

Expect plenty of Afrocentric regality. Before Black Panther, African American cosplayers had mostly just white superheroes to choose from. “Like, you couldn’t just be Han Solo—you had to be the black Han Solo,” Ali Barthwell says. “We want this convention to be a space where you can dress up in whatever makes you feel great.”

If You Have Kids

They're invited too. Activities geared toward littles include games (both video and lo-fi) and panels, including a presentation by the Shuri Project, a summer program that teaches tween girls how to build websites.


August 3 to 5. Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave. $39 for a three-day pass.