“What does the critical and commercial success of Black Panther mean for black cinema?” That’s the question of the day — one that I’ve been asked on a few occasions since last weekend’s box office blowout. My answer to each inquiry has been the same: I have no idea. I’ve long stopped placing that kind of burden on any single film or filmmaker. It’s an exercise in futility. It’s best to simply enjoy each film, relish each experience and, in time, we will eventually begin to see what impact, if any, each has, or more likely, a collection of films have on the status quo. In short, just let each film be what it is, in the specific moment in time, without any expectation of what it might come to mean historically. The rest will take care of itself.
All that said, there are a number of relatively high-profile, previously-announced film and TV projects with black talent attached, set within the African continent, or in some fictional, mythical world, that haven’t been made yet, and that could suddenly be fast-tracked (industry lingo for accelerated into production) (if they aren’t already in production ) after being given a boost in interest by the proven financial gains that Black Panther has made, and will continue to make throughout its theatrical run. I’ve highlighted some of them below, so don’t be surprised if any comes to a screen (theater or TV) near you a lot sooner than expected:
— Untitled Dahomey Women Warriors series: Speaking of the Dora Milaje, the Dahomey Amazons (referred to as such by Westerners) were a 19th century all-woman military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey, which is present-day Republic of Benin (Dahomey was renamed Benin in 1975). For the better half of 200 years, they fought (in the thousands) and died while trying to expand the borders of their West African kingdom. Even their enemies at whose hands they would eventually fall, specifically the French, acknowledged their incredible acts of bravery. Their story will be told in an upcoming TV series from NCIS producer Charles F. Johnson, along with French producer/director/writer Joy Fleury, and producer Karen Gordy. Co-created by French writer Didier Lacoste and writer/director Armand Bernardi, the team of creatives also comprises of specialists on the subject matter, as well as African history academics, with the obvious goal here being to produce as authentic and true-to-life a work as the series’ budget allows. It was being developed as a live-action TV project, and since the initial announcement in mid-2016, there has been no news on its progress. At the time, no network was attached. It’s likely more of a premium cable TV program (HBO, Showtime, etc, or Netflix, Hulu, Amazon) than anything for the likes of the so-called Big 4 (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC). I suppose a network like FX or even AMC might take a peek. Or maybe one of the black TV networks – OWN would be the most obvious, given its target audience, although I’d expect an ambitious project like this would be very expensive to produce, and OWN may not want to foot the bill, at least not entirely solo. I say that because OWN passed on Underground last year because of its production price tag. A period piece on the all-woman military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey likely will be even more expensive to make. And if you’re wondering, yes, producer Charles F. Johnson is black.
— Warrior Queen: Amanirenas was a queen of the Kingdom of Kush who reigned from about 40 BCE to 10 BCE. Described as brave, and blind in one eye, she is one of the most famous royals, because of her role leading Kushite armies against the Romans in a war that lasted five years, from 27 BCE to 22 BCE. And now a film on her life just might become a reality courtesy of super producer Will Packer, from an early 2017 pitch by Mark Rosenthal which was acquired by Universal Pictures. To be titled Warrior Queen, Packer is producing the project via his Will Packer Productions shingle, with head of motion pictures James Lopez. Unfortunately, no other details on the project are public at this time, and nothing further has been announced since the initial public unveiling. But Packer continues to load up on intriguing, varied projects for both the big and small screens. Last year, he also teamed up with Kerry Washington’s Simpson Street production company to develop a feature film adaptation of Natalie C. Anderson’s bestselling Kenya-set thriller City of Saints & Thieves, and with Aaron McGruder and Amazon Studios for what was described as an “alternate universe” series in the mold of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle – the dystopian drama that is loosely based on the 1962 novel of the same name by author Philip K. Dick.
— Who Fears Death: The fantasy novel by Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor, published in 2010 by DAW – an imprint of Penguin Books – was picked up by HBO to adapt for the screen, with George R. R. Martin (the author of the fantasy novels that HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones is based on), serving as an executive producer. Writer (television, film, comics & journalism) Selwyn Seyfu Hinds has been hired to script the adaptation. The novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic future version of Sudan, where the light-skinned Nuru oppress the dark-skinned Okeke. The protagonist, Onyesonwu (Igbo for “who fears death”), is an Ewu, i.e. the child of an Okeke woman raped by a Nuru man. On reaching maturity, she goes on a quest to defeat her sorcerer father Daib, using her magical powers. The project is in development as an HBO series, with no further updates at this time. Martin will executive produce with Angela Mancuso. Hinds is co-executive producer, while Okorafor will serve as consultant.
— Rebel of the Sands: Willow Smith is apparently easing her way back into acting, teaming up with Cartel Entertainment on an adaptation of author Alwyn Hamilton’s fantasy-romance YA novel Rebel of the Sands (the first in a trilogy). Set in a mystical desert nation called Mirahin, Sands follows sixteen-year-old gunslinger Amani Al’Hiza, who has the elemental power to control the sands of the desert. An orphan, she itches to leave Dustwalk, the small village where she lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousins. Amani escapes to travel across the desert with Jin, a mysterious foreigner. They encounter many dangers along the journey as they defend themselves against mythical creatures. While it will be a trilogy, only the first and second books have been written and published so far (Rebel of the Sands and Traitor to the Throne); the final book will come eventually. The trilogy was acquired as a potential starring vehicle for Willow Smith. Her MSFTS Production and Cartel Entertainment are partnering on the project. No other details are available at this time. No other attachments. It’s not yet set up at any studio that we’re aware of.
— Children of Blood and Bone: Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel at just 23 years old when the project was announced last year, was acquired by Fox 2000 – the first installment of a fantasy novel trilogy, which was still a year away from being officially published at the time the deal was made (it lands at bookstores everywhere – at least in the USA – on March 6). Adeyemi’s storytelling and world building must have serious potential, and impressed both Fox studio brass and Macmillan Publishing immensely, as the deal with Fox was said to be in the seven-figures, and Macmillan’s being one of the largest YA debut novel publishing deals ever. The novel’s synopsis reads as follows: “Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers―and her growing feelings for an enemy.” Since last year’s acquisition, Fox hasn’t made any further announcements about its plans for an adaptation of Children of Blood and Bone. Although that could change in a hurry. Temple Hill’s Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey are producing with Karen Rosenfelt.
— Black Snake: The only non-American production on this list, French actor/comedian Thomas Ngijol’s next film, announced at the Paris Comic-Con last year, just might have some crossover appeal, given its central character: an African superhero; in a time when superhero movies and TV series are all the rage, and black superheroes are especially in demand. Ngijol attended Paris Comic-Con to present Black Snake, which he will star in and also co-direct. He described it as an ambitious and innovative movie: “Superman flies over Africa, and he pretends he doesn’t see us,” the actor said jokingly. “It’s fine to go save Gotham City and other mega-cities, but there is also work to do in Yaoundé, Ivory Coast and Zaire. At one point I thought, ‘Shit, where are the superheroes on the continent?'” Well, we got Black Panther to start, albeit he comes from a fictional African nation. But as for what exactly Black Snake will be about, Ngijol shared: “The audience will be immersed in the extraordinary adventures of Clotaire Sangala, a man who takes on the Black Snake alter ego to fight crime and injustice across Africa. He’s a masked vigilante trained in martial arts who will face an African dictator oppressing his people.” One wonders what kind of leader Killmonger would have become should he have retained the Wakandan throne. But the crime to be fought be Black Snake is certainly of the moment, as Ngijol has lots of real-life material to work with. Ngijol promises an “impressive” film that will try to compete with Coogler’s Black Panther. Black Snake is being backed by French producer BlackDynamite Films – the company behind French hits like Les Infidèles starring Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin (the first French actor in history to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for The Artist). Filming was expected to start last year, in South Africa, but there’s no evidence to confirm that it ever did begin. And the actor has been entirely silent about the project since the initial announcement last year. He did previously say that it would be a monumental undertaking, so this is one film that may take some time to come together. There was teaser for Black Snake shared online, but it’s since been pulled unfortunately. It’ll likely resurface; so once it does, we will share it. But based on what I saw, it looked like it’ll be more akin to Deadpool in tone. The above teaser poster is all we have to share at the moment.
There will probably be other titles to add to this list; in fact, I expect more announcements to be made this year, as it’s typical for studios to want to capitalize on the success of whatever is *hot* at any given moment, and Black Panther most certainly is that. Nobody wants to be “first”; too risky. So, in the near-term, this list will very likely grow.
But if I missed any previously announced titles that meet this post’s criteria, let us know in the comment section below. Also, which of the above are you most interested in seeing?