Ahead of Black Panther‘s theatrical release, we’re learning more about a planned film on the fictional Wakandan superhero in the mid-90s that would have starred Wesley Snipes.
Of course, history led us to Snipes starring in Blade, what in retrospect can be viewed as the prerequisite to the current Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as it essentially paved the way for the very first X-Men and Spider-Man films.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Snipes has revealed never-before-heard details about the film which was ultimately shelved.
Snipes and his then-manager, Doug Robertson, were approached by Marvel about a Black Panther project. He also had the blessing of Marvel publisher Stan Lee.
“Many people don’t know that there were fantastic, glorious periods of African empires and African royalty — Mansa Musa and some of the wealthiest men in the world compared to the wealth of today. That was always very, very attractive. And I loved the idea of the advanced technology. I thought that was very forward thinking,” he said.
But if you need a reminder, this was not the Marvel we know now. During this time period, around 1996, Marvel had declared bankruptcy (and would later sell portions to Disney and Fox — with Disney recently acquiring the Fox assets late last year) and its rival, DC was killing it at the box office with Batman and Superman films.
However, this Marvel film would have been taken mostly from the earlier BP comics, as opposed to the Christopher Priest and Ta’Nehsi Coates versions that the 2018 film use as a basis.
Snipes, hot from films like New Jack City and White Men Can’t Jump was having a moment, and thought Black Panther would be a “cultural movement.”
He says the struggle began off the bat trying to get folks to understand he was making a film on the black superhero, not the Black Panther party. “They think you want to come out with a black beret and clothing and then there’s a movie.”
After Columbia was booked as the studio the search for a writer and director began. Two were considered for director: Mario Van Peebles and John Singleton.
On Singleton and the film, he said “I laid on him my vision of the film being closer to what you see now: the whole world of Africa being a hidden, highly technologically advanced society, cloaked by a force field, Vibranium. John was like, ‘Nah! Hah! Hah! See, he’s got the spirit of the Black Panther, but he is trying to get his son to join the (civil rights activist) organization. And he and his son have a problem, and they have some strife because he is trying to be politically correct and his son wants to be a knucklehead.’
I am loosely paraphrasing our conversation. But ultimately, John wanted to take the character and put him in the civil rights movement. And I’m like, ‘Dude! Where’s the toys?! They are highly technically advanced, and it will be fantastic to see Africa in this light opposed to how Africa is typically portrayed.’ I wanted to see the glory and the beautiful Africa. The jewel Africa,” he said. “Thank God. I love John, but I am so glad we didn’t go down that road, because that would have been the wrong thing to do with such a rich project.”
On the costume, he said: “Actually, I figured it would be a leotard. A leotard with maybe some little cat ears on it. I would have to be in shape and just be straight bodied up. I never imagined anything more than a leotard at the time, which I didn’t have a problem with because I started out as a dancer.”
The project fell through, but Snipes said he used what he was thinking here to apply to Blade. “They both (Black Panther and Blade) had nobility. They both were fighters. So I thought, hey, we can’t do the King of Wakanda and the Vibranium and the hidden kingdom in Africa, let’s do a black vampire.” And that film sure did have an impact on what we know now to be a Marvel film. “Remember, during that time, Marvel was going through a liquidation and there were concerns that the whole company might fold. And it is my understanding that film was a catalyst to its resurgence and the empire we see now,” he said.
On the current Black Panther film which is seeing the light of day, Snipes says, “Even though I am not a part of this particular project, I support it 1,000 percent, and I am absolutely convinced that it will be a catalyst for change and open other doors and other opportunities. And we need that kind of diversity and different flavor now. He (Chadwick Boseman) is a young, talented actor, and I think he is going to make it his own. I hope they give him a great opportunity to really come into the fullness of the character.”
Read the full interview at THR.