Before Blade, Wesley Snipes tried and failed to get a Black Panther movie made. It would have been dramatically different from the new film.
Marvel’s Black Panther is poised to arrive in theaters with an opening weekend that is going to be huge (as in, more than $170 million huge). Having already received raves from critics, Ryan Coogler’s take on the classic comics superhero is thus bound to be viewed as an unqualified success — and proves that the Marvel Cinematic Universe formula remains unmatched in the blockbuster-moviemaking arena. Nonetheless, Coogler and star Chadwick Boseman aren’t the first artists to try their hand at a film about T’Challa; Wesley Snipes spent considerable effort in the 1990s trying to get his own version of the character off the ground before, eventually, turning his attention to Blade. While that original Panther project wasn’t meant to be and was undone by assorted creative and financial issues, it remains a fascinating what-could-have-been concept. Here are the five biggest ways his film would have taken Black Panther in a unique direction.
1. Black Panther’s costume would have been a leotard.
While Chadwick Boseman’s current Black Panther outfit is a svelte, high-tech garment made of indestructible vibranium, Snipes imagined a somewhat less glamorous suit for his hero, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “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.”
2. The story would have focused on T’Challa discovering his Wakandan roots.
As former Marvel editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco informed THR, the story he was initially pitched involved a baby T’Challa being sent down a river in a basket to avoid a Wakanda battle; then, he would begin learning about his royal heritage years later — when he was grown and living a normal life elsewhere — after being suddenly attacked by unknown assailants. Thus, he’d have to discover who he was, and where Wakanda was, alongside the audience.
3. Snipes’s film would have been heavily rooted in dispelling African stereotypes.
Speaking to Slate, Snipes says that one of the main things that drew him to Black Panther — a film that preceded, and in fact led to, his involvement with Blade — was the opportunity to counter many negative opinions about Africa and its culture. “I thought it would be a fantastic way to help address some of the stereotypes about Africa and the Africans’ glory, the African history, African people of the day, of the time. … I had a general vision of depicting Africa and the multicultural world of Africa similar to what you might have found in ancient Aksum, or Timbuktu, these glorious empires, and the cultural diversity, the clothing. … Most people in the world are unfamiliar with and don’t know that there are systemized martial arts, African martial arts systems, on the continent, some that predate what we now know as kung fu and the Shaolin Temple. … Of course, we had to have great music. Great international music, yeah, and the technology.”
4. Potential director John Singleton dreamed of giving the material a politically charged angle, much to the star’s opposition.
Coming off the success of Boyz n the Hood and Higher Learning, director John Singleton was approached for Black Panther, but Snipes felt that the filmmaker’s ideas were wrong for the project — both in terms of selling the movie and in terms of remaining faithful to the character. “John was in that Boyz n the Hood mode, and … what was the other one he did about the school? … Higher Learning,” Snipes explained to Slate. “So that’s where he was going. He was kind of oriented in that direction. He thought the idea of picking the Black Panther out of Wakanda, out of the high-tech world, and bringing him into the civil rights movement, and the civil rights mission in West L.A. was a good move, was a good idea. I was like, ‘My man, my man, look, you cannot sell any toys, you’re not going to sell any records, you ain’t none of that if we go down that route.'”
“Plus, you gonna freak people out. The white community might break out, you come talking about the Black Panther and we already got the [real] Black Panthers from the nationalists and the revolutionaries from the ’70s and the ’60s. Man, no, clearly, if there was an issue with selling the concept to the foreign market before that came along, once you throw that kind of storyline into the mix, it’s dead on arrival. It’s dead on arrival. He was like, ‘Naw, naw, because it’s about the father, and the son, and they have this rift.’ I’m like, ‘Man, this is … no, no, no, no, no.’ I love John, but he might tell the story a little differently, but that’s the way I remember it.”
5. The special effects would have been less special than in this Black Panther.
Snipes’s plan to depict Wakanda as a technologically advanced society (replete with all sorts of high-tech gadgets) would have required considerable special effects work. Since this was in the 1990s, the actor soon found that his concepts weren’t necessarily realizable, even on a blockbuster budget.
“Ultimately, we couldn’t find the right combination of script and director and, also at the time, we were so far ahead of the game in the thinking, the technology wasn’t there to do what they had already created in the comic book,” Snipes recounted to THR. Twenty years later, and the world — as proven by Coogler’s CG-heavy film — has finally caught up to Snipes’s vision.
Marvel’s Black Panther is in theaters Friday.
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