Netflix’s new superhero movie, Project Power, wrapped filming almost two years ago, but there’s a scene midway through the film that’s so timely you’d swear it was just shot yesterday.
The sequence in question is between ex-soldier Art (Jamie Foxx) and young New Orleans teen Robin (Dominique Fishback), who join forces on a mission to expel a top-secret government organisation that’s pushing pills on the street. Only instead of giving you a high, these pills gift — or curse — you with temporary bursts of superpowers.
That may sound like a perk, but Art knows firsthand how dangerous these new designer drugs are and educates Robin on the importance of finding her own power. “I know I’ve got to work the system harder than it’s working me,” he tells her. “That’s what you’ve gotta do. You’re young, you’re Black, you’re a woman: The system is designed to swallow you whole.”
That piece of dialogue would be powerful at any time, but it’s particularly meaningful after a summer filled with protests inspired by the deaths of Black men and women like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The latter case in particular has become a rallying cry on the streets and on social media as activists, entertainers and ordinary citizens push for Kentucky to arrest the police officers who shot and killed Taylor in her home. Foxx himself shared his support for the Justice for Breonna Taylor movement on his Instagram page, and also appeared at a June “kneel-in” to honour Floyd.
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In light of real-world events, Art’s warning to Robin about the system being designed to swallow her whole takes on extra resonance. “We didn’t know we would be faced with these incredibly challenging times when we did this movie two years ago, but great minds can feel things in the air,” Foxx tells Yahoo Entertainment about the significance of that line in today’s climate. “If there’s anything 2020 shows you, it’s that our eyes are open.” (Watch our video interview above.)
“Our eyes are open to how the distribution of power can be used in the worst way possible, and can really fracture what we’ve built,” the Oscar winner continues. “We’ve built a lot in this country, no matter what colour you are. But especially Black folks: We’ve been at this 400 years and never really asked for anything. All we ask for is decency, and that’s crazy when someone is mad at you when you ask for decency. So let those words sink in.”
In a separate interview, Project Power screenwriter Mattson Tomlin reveals how those words went from his mind onto the page. “It’s really what the movie is about,” he explains, adding that he specifically wrote the lead roles with Black actors in mind. “I originally wrote the movie in 2016, so it’s one of those instances where there was no way to predict it would come out at a time where so much of what it’s talking about feels so painfully relevant. I knew that I wanted to say something about power and the system, and also race.
Robin and Art are characters that we don’t often get to see in this kind of movie, especially in this way. That combination of things provided a fresh point of view in a story that has a lot of superhero stuff that otherwise might feel familiar. And I’m so glad that line made it in; it was something I talked about with [directors] Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. We were like, ‘Is that a controversial statement?’ And then we realised, ‘Oh no, it’s not.’”
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For her part, Fishback says she’s excited to be part of a film where Black heroes assert their power and individuality regardless of what might be happening in the real world. “When I first read the script, I immediately thought: ‘This is my Dakota Fanning moment in Man on Fire with Denzel [Washington].’ Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see a lot [of movies] where young Black girls were those main characters. For it to come out now in a way where not only is she being saved — she’s also doing some saving herself. She’s using her own ability and her own power.”
Having used her power to keep the system from swallowing her whole, Robin emerges from Project Power as a newly minted hero ready for fresh adventures. And Tomlin has big hopes for the future of the superhero universe he’s created. “I would love to do a Project Power comic book,” he teases. “I also think there’s a strong argument to be made for doing spinoffs with different characters in movies that have different feels. What’s so fun about the idea is that you can take this little pill that gives you superpowers for five minutes, so you could drop that into any genre and it would give you something new to say. I’d love to see the John Hughes version of Project Power — what would that look like?”
Funnily enough, one of Foxx’s upcoming projects is poised to take the superhero movie into a very different genre: horror. The actor is set to star as Todd McFarlane’s demon soldier, Spawn, in a new R-rated movie written and directed by the comic book artist and toy magnate, and produced by scary movie expert Jason Blum.
It’s a role that Foxx personally lobbied for, and can’t wait to play now that the success of movies like Black Panther has opened the door for other Black superheroes.
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“I surprised Todd McFarlane,” he says, laughing. “I said, ‘Bro, I know that one day you will do this movie, and I hope you will keep me in mind.’ What Black Panther did was let us know that it’s so necessary, and it’s the time. And Spawn is just an interesting character in itself. The heads that are being put together to bring you something special — look out.”
Project Power premieres Friday, 14 August, on Netflix.