The long-awaited movie adaptation of Black Panther, one of the only black superheroes in the Marvel comic book universe, represents a moment of some significance.
Until now, fans have rarely seen a black superhero on the page, let alone the big screen. There was Mark A.Z. Dippe’s 1997 adaptation of Spawn – the first movie to feature an African American actor playing a major comic book hero – but that was something of a mixed bag.
Perhaps the more significant release was to come a year later, in 1998, when director Stephen Norrington teamed up with Wesley Snipes for Blade. The movie remains an important milestone in not only offering up the first cinematic black Marvel superhero but also kick-starting much of the comic book movie craze that was to emerge in the years that followed.
DC may have already enjoyed success with Superman and Batman but it was Blade, the movie about an African-American vampire hunter, that laid the foundations of what has followed for Marvel – including Black Panther.
Yet, for all the success the Blade franchise brought Snipes in the years that followed, the reality is that he started out with the intention of making an altogether different superhero movie – a Black Panther movie.
The story of why that project stalled and eventually evolved into Blade is a fascinating, and all-too-familiar one in the world of Hollywood.
With that said, here are 16 Things You Didn’t Know About Wesley Snipes’ Failed Black Panther Movie.
16. It Was Indirectly Crucial To Marvel’s Revival
Black Panther may not have happened back in the 1990s, but the failed plans for the project did, indirectly at least, pave the way for Marvel’s revival.
Blade, the comic book movie alternative yjsy Snipes turned to when Black Panther stalled, ended up earning $131 million worldwide for New Line Cinema and spawned a further two sequels.
More importantly, other studios began to take notice of comic book properties. Fox purchased X-Men, while Sony turned their attentions to Spider-Man.
So, in a way, Black Panther’s initial failure and the arrival of Blade helped Marvel get back on track.
“Remember, during that time, Marvel was going through a liquidation and there were concerns that the whole company might fold,” Snipes told THR. “And it is my understanding that film was a catalyst to its resurgence and the empire we see now.”
15. The Project Had Stan Lee’s Approval… Or So It Seemed
Stan Lee co-created Black Panther alongside Jack Kirby in 1966. He clearly had a lot of affection for the character, who was of major cultural significance in the comic book world.
This affection, as well as Lee’s affection for his comic book creations, meant he often approached potential movie projects with a clear vision for how these characters should be depicted on the screen.
Prior to Disney’s takeover of Marvel, Lee also had the final say on scripts. It was part of the reason why Cannon Films’ Spider-Man movie never got off the ground and possibly why Snipes’ Black Panther stalled – though Snipes would never say it.
“He was supportive of the Black Panther project at the time,” Snipes told THR. Being supportive is one thing, but signing off on a script ended up being a whole other matter.
14. One Script Pitched Black Panther As A Moses-Like Character
Though no script was ever given the greenlight, Marvel editor Tom DeFalco remembers screenwriter Terry Hayes pitching an “incredible“ story over dinner with Columbia studio executives.
Hayes’ movie would have opened on a fierce battle in Wakanda, where a baby T’Challa is seen being put in a basket and floated down a river – à la Moses from the Bible.
The movie would then cut to several years later with T’Challa, now an adult, living a largely anonymous life.
Everything changes after he is randomly attacked in an elevator in an elaborate fight scene described as part of the pitch. The story and T’Challa’s journey back to his rightful kingdom of Wakanda would go from there.
DeFalco told THR that he felt Hayes “had a terrific handle on the character, on the action, on the stakes and everything else.“ Someone else evidently disagreed.
13. Snipes Claims That He Was Eventually Deemed Too Old For The Part
Despite his advancing years and fading star status, Snipes never let go of the idea of playing T’Challa, even if studio bosses and Marvel chiefs had already begun casting their eye over a whole new generation of actors.
Even as late as 2010, there were reports suggesting Snipes was still keen on the part, despite being told tha he was too old for it.
Despite failing to land the role, Snipes gave his full backing to Boseman and the new Black Panther movie. “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,” he told THR.
12. Marvel Was A Complete Mess When The Idea Was Floated
Though it might seem hard to believe, back in the 1990s, Marvel was a cinematic basket case, stuck firmly in the shadow of DC. “Our major competitor was owned by Warner Bros., and they were coming out with Superman movies and Batman movies … We were out there struggling,” former Marvel editor in chief Tom DeFalco told The Hollywood Reporter.
That’s putting a brave face on it: between 1986 and 1994, Marvel released a Punisher movie fronted by a monosyllabic Dolph Lundgren, a bizarrely rendered Howard The Duck movie and a Fantastic Four effort so awful that it never ended up getting released.
11. Snipes Had A Clear Vision From The Start
Movies like White Men Can’t Jump, Passenger 57, and Demolition Man had helped make Snipes an A-list star and teaming up with Marvel represented a gamble– but Snipes saw it as an opportunity.
With Africa too often depicted as a depressing and barren landscape, he felt that a Black Panther movie was a rare chance to showcase the continent’s beauty and underappreciated history.
“Many people don’t know that there were fantastic, glorious periods of African empires and African royalty,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “That was always very, very attractive. And I loved the idea of the advanced technology [in the comic]. I thought that was very forward thinking.”
Snipes also saw the project’s potential for cultural change.
10. There Was Confusion Over The Title
Almost immediately, Snipes encountered an issue while trying to get the project off: most people assumed that he was making a movie about the 1960s civil rights revolutionaries of the same name, rather than a superhero called Black Panther.
“They think you want to come out with a black beret and clothing and then there’s a movie,” Snipes told THR. It proved to be a frustrating and repetitive obstacle for the actor, who found himself constantly having to explain himself to interested parties.
Interestingly, Mario Van Peebles, one of the filmmakers initially shortlisted to helm Snipes’ Black Panther movie, would eventually make a movie about the revolutionary group. The year 1995’s Panther was adapted from a screenplay by Mario’s father Melvin Van Peebles and made over $6 million at the box office despite middling reviews.
9. John Singleton Wanted To Make A Very Different Movie
Though Snipes never met Van Peebles to discuss the project, he did hold talks with Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton and it wasn’t a productive meeting.
Snipes laid out his vision for a Black Panther movie featuring the comic book’s hidden, technologically advanced African society.
However, Singleton disagreed.
“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” Snipes told THR. “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.'”
8. Snipes Wanted Black Panther Action Figures
Snipes’ reaction to Singleton’s vision for the Black Panther movie was, according to THR, to ask: “Dude! Where’s the toys?!”
In most circumstances, this might have been viewed as a cynically commercial response – but this was different. Part of Snipes’ vision for the Black Panther movie was to create a blockbuster that not only portrayed Africa in a positive light, but also put a black male character front and centre as the face of his very own superhero franchise.
A line of toys would have been a crucial part of that for Snipes and part of why he wanted to keep his Black Panther movie a straight superhero story rather than one infused with the issues surrounding civil rights. To his way of thinking– the movie would either be a blockbuster or it just wouldn’t happen.
7. Snipes’ Black Panther would have worn a leotard
Though Chadwick Boseman’s incarnation of T’Challa/Black Panther comes kitted out with his very high tech black panther suit– something more in keeping with Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man get-up for Tony Stark – Snipes had a very different idea for his movie.
“Actually, I figured it would be a leotard,” he told THR, laughing about the plans. “A leotard with maybe some little cat ears on it.”
Snipes was in good shape and planned to ensure that he had the necessary muscle and definition for the role with some additional gym work (not that he needed it).
He also had no issues about wearing an all-in-one leotard for the part, having started his career as a dancer before branching out into acting. Ultimately, the costume, much like the movie itself, never ended up getting made.
6. No One Could Agree On A Director… Or Script
The project ultimately stalled because studio bosses, Marvel chiefs and Snipes, himself, couldn’t agree on a director… or a script, for that matter. Snipes, for one, felt that his vision for Black Panther wasn’t viable given the limitations of filmmaking 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,” he told THR.
John Singleton’s extreme vision evidently put Snipes and Marvel off approaching more directors until a script was decided upon – and then there was Stan Lee.
Lee kept rejecting the scripts put forward for the Black Panther movie.
5. Snipes Considered Making A Knock-off Version In Africa
Despite the various setbacks, Snipes was seemingly determined to get his Black Panther project off the ground – whatever the cost. At one point, that cost was set to be very substantial – according to ComicBookMovie, Snipes went as far as trying to buy the rights to the character from Marvel in order to get the movie made.
The move would have given Snipes complete creative control, and suggested that studio interference and the input of Marvel had played a part in the project failing to get off the ground.
When reports of Snipes’ attempt at buying the rights to the Black Panther came to nothing, rumours suggested that the actor considering going to Africa himself to film a knock-off version of the hero. He wouldn’t have been Black Panther, per se, but that was the lengths that the actor was apparently willing to go to.
4. Black Panther’s Loss Was Blade’s Gain
Despite the multiple setbacks and ultimate failure of his plans for Black Panther, Snipes did learn a lot from the experience and ended up applying much of it to Blade.
Based on the vampire hunter created back in July 1973 by Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman, Snipes saw the character of Blade as a “natural progression” and simple “readjustment” from Black Panther.
“They both had nobility. They both were fighters,” he told THR.
“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.”
Though New Line Cinema also had Denzel Washington and Laurence Fishburne in mind for the part, Snipes’ previous work with Marvel on Black Panther gave him the edge. Screenwriter David S. Goyer was also keen on Snipes for the role — a decision he may have ended up regretting.
3. The Blade Movie Coincided With A Black Panther Comic Revival
As chance would have it, the Black Panther comic enjoyed something of a renaissance around the time that Snipes turned his attentions to Blade.
Much of the credit should go to writer Christopher Priest and artist Mark Texeira, who were able to breathe new life into the character as part of a 1998 revamp that saw the Black Panther relaunched as part of the newly-introduced Marvel Knights line of comic books.
The relaunched version of T’Challa was a more modern adult, and a greater level of experimentation was encouraged. Edited by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti, the Marvel Knights line also included revamped versions of Daredevil, Punisher, and The Inhumans.
2. Snipes Never Gave Up On A Black Panther Movie
Even after seeing his Black Panther movie plans hit the skids and after the success of the Blade movies, Snipes never quite gave up on the idea of bringing T’Challa to the big screen.
By 2002, and with two successful Blade movies under his belt, Snipes was keen to revisit plans for a Black Panther movie. To his way of thinking, he would either take on the role of T’Challa or he would return for a third and most likely final Blade movie.
What happened next is unclear, but Snipes ended up starring in Blade: Trinity in 2004. Though the movie was a financial success, it wasn’t as well received with fans.
1. John Singleton Was Attached To Direct – Without Snipes
Snipes’ on-set issues with director David S. Goyer on Blade: Trinity were well documented – the actor spent much of his time in his trailer and reportedly only communicated with Goyer via post-it notes.
Maybe that’s why, by 2007, Kevin Feige had tapped up John Singleton to direct the movie. Singleton’s civil rights-inspired approach remained as relevant as ever and it seemed the filmmaker had someone in mind for the part – Chiwetel Ejiofor.
By 2009, writers had been hired to put a script together and by 2011 a script had been written by Mark Bailey.
Bailey, who previously worked in documentary filmmaking, wasn’t the obvious choice to write the script and it would appear that his efforts weren’t particularly well received, with talk of a Black Panther movie all but disappearing over the next couple of years.
Can you think of any other interesting facts about Wesley Snipes’ Black Panther movie? Sound off in the comment section!
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