Saturday, September 18, 2021

After ‘Black Panther’: More Black Leads, Less ‘Blackening’ in Superhero Films? [EUR Exclusive]

black panther - 4k blu-ray digital

*With “Black Panther” set to hit Netflix today (September 4), it is worth pointing out the remarkable fact that this comes less than a month after the film left theaters on August 9th, a few days after finally passing the amazing $700 million mark domestically – something only “Avatar” and “Star Wars:The Force Awakens” have done.

In fact, “Black Panther” had such incredible legs, it kept driving fans to the theater long after it’s incredible, above-all-expectations $202 million domestic opening weekend, even after it’s May 8th digital HD debut and it’s May 15th DVD/Blu-ray release. All in all, it grossed 3.45 times its enormous domestic opening weekend, making it the second-most “leggy” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, after “Guardians of the Galaxy” generated a $333 million domestic take off a $94 million opening weekend.

Such strong word of mouth off such a huge opening weekend allowed “Black Panther” to stay in theaters for 25 weeks – the only film this year to do so and a feat increasingly rare as even the biggest hits seem to have a 9-12 week window before being offered digitally and/or on DVD/Blu-ray.

So, given all that, plus the fact that the film is the third largest domestic hit, ever, in terms of raw dollars, is the 30th biggest hit adjusted for inflation/tickets sold, besting the most popular theatrical outings of James Bond (“Thunderball”) and Batman “The Dark Knight”; just missed beating the adjusted/tickets sold total of “The Avengers”; bested the adjusted/tickets sold of every other solo superhero film ever; generated Oscar buzz and grossed $1.3 billion worldwide – smashing forever the idea that films with black leads won’t do well overseas, it would seem Hollywood would be ready to bring a whole bunch of traditional black comic book heroes to the big screen, instead of relegating them to the small screen or “blackening” traditionally white characters, right?

Not so fast.

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While “Black Panther 2” seems a slam dunk – and may even be fast-tracked to take the place of the delayed “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” in 2020, many industry experts feel Hollywood may still be slow to take a risk with more superhero films with black leads – and if they do, it will likely be a trickle, not a flood.

“‘Black Panther’ was a good film, but it got helped a lot by some people treating it as a movement rather than a film (which) is not always a bad thing when used in a positive way, but that kind of thing doesn’t transfer consistently to other projects”, says Jerry Chandler, who is known for the blog Needless Things. “If the next films from Marvel and other studios that try to be a ‘Black Panther’ kind of deal don’t see a repeat of that success, the studios will likely play it safe and do 50/50.”

“Marvel is likely to have big success with a ‘Black Panther 2’, so I can see them looking to ‘Blade’ (the vampire hunter popularized on film by Wesley Snipes), ‘Night Thrasher’ ( a black combination of Iron Man and Batman) or others with differing levels of success,” Chandler added. “But I still expect they  will draw from the more recent comic book works for some characters that can be gender-bent or race swapped or both.”

But don’t people find “blackening” characters to be archaic thinking at this point?

To be cheap diversity changing traditionally white characters like Perry White, Valkyrie and Domino black, when there are so many traditionally black characters in the Marvel Universe, Dc and the Milestone Universe – which was a universe of all black heroes that gave us “Static” (from the “Static Shock” cartoon) and is owned by Warner Brothers – just waiting for their shot at the big screen?

Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War..L to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Black Panther/T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Photo: Chuck Zlotnick..©Marvel Studios 2018

“I do (find it archaic thinking), but others don’t”, said Chandler.

Chris Williams, better known as the comic artist ChrisCross, says he is tired of the blackening of traditionally white characters as well. In particular, he’s tired of rumors of Idris Elba becoming a “black James Bond”.

“I’ve had my problems with the switcheroo,” he said emphatically. “It’s lazy replacing a European agent with the name and designation of James Bond with an African delineated man because they’re too lazy to just create an agent with the same or better concept as 007.”

“Like, the brother could be named ‘Magnum Stare, 20/20’ or something and could be made not just as debonair, but even more ruthless in his own right,” Williams continued. “Unless they’re making the nomenclature of James Bond and his serial number a concept and not his real name and designation, then there should have been more than one version of James Bond and all the actors that played Bond should have had their own real names and just used the Bond name as an alter-ego.”

“Any character can be great, depending on the creative team involved and all creative companies need to put a creative bounty on new ideas as well,” said writer/producer Reggie Hudlin, the former President of Entertainment at BET.

Relegated To The Small Screen

Another possible obstacle to seeing more popular black superheroes hit the big screen is that so many of them have been relegated to the small screen.

Luke Cage is arguably the second most popular and historically significant black character in the history of Marvel. Yet instead of his shot at a big-budget feature, his adventures are on Netflix. Cloak was so popular at one time he, without Dagger, was one of the heroes to take on Thanos in the comics which inspired the “Infinity War” film. Yet, instead of joining Ironman, Thor and Captain America against Thanos in cineplexes this summer, his live-action debit has been with the decidedly mixed show, “Cloak and Dagger” on Freeform. DC’s “Black Lightning” could be as cool as “Thor” on the big screen, yet is on CW instead.

And then there’s “Night Thrasher”

The hero, who is a cross between Iron Man and Batman, and led a team who’s initial comic run was arguably more popular than the “Avengers” in the ’90s, has long seemed prime material for a film. Instead, it seems a “New Warriors” TV show that has a comedic tone and stars SQUIRREL GIRL will star. Which, to many, seems a waste of potential.

“I actually like the potential of long-form storytelling with characters like ‘Black Lightning’ and ‘Luke Cage’, but ‘Night Thrasher’ has to be a foundation character on the big screen to build to a ‘New Warriors’ film. I mean, he just has to,” said Chandler.

WILL THERE BE A MILESTONE BREAKTHROUGH?

Another huge opportunity for there to be a wave of superhero films with black leads would be if Warner Brothers took advantage of their Milestone characters.

Milestone Media was a company best known for creating Milestone Comics, which were published and distributed by DC Comics and the”Static Shock” cartoon series. It was founded in 1993 by a coalition of black artists and writers consisting of Chris Williams, Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle. The founders believed that minorities were severely underrepresented in American comics, and wished to address this.

The line was a modest success. However, DC has made a point of including the characters in traditional books lately and the character “Icon” has appeared in some of the SC cartoons. Oh, they also have a man in charge of these properties and bringing them to television, video games – and movies.

His name is Reggie Hudlin.

Producer Reggie Hudlin attends the “Burning Sands” Premiere at Eccles Center Theatre on January 24, 2017, in Park City, Utah.
(Source: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images North America

“The Milestone characters are the next big thing,” Hudlin said cryptically.

Which means you may be seeing films titled “Hardware”, “Blood Syndicate”, “Icon” and “Static” leading films in cineplexes in the near future.

Chandler likes the idea but is a bit skeptical of it becoming a reality.

“I’d personally love to see Milestone have more characters become really well known besides ‘Static'”, he said. “I followed most of the books – especially ‘Icon’ (A being from another planet, he has taken on the form of an African American man, but has abilities such as flight, super-strength, and invulnerability) – when they were first published. But with movies, you have to fight money men and studio heads.”

“‘Black Panther’ may make it easier to get something like that done, but it’s just as likely that some bean counter will nix ‘Icon’ while saying ‘Black Panther’ was far better known and had a longer history with fans,” Chandler opines. “Then, they’d point out black superhero films with lesser characters like ‘Steel’ and ‘Meteor Man’, which flopped and were forgotten. Suddenly, the safe bet…is taking Robin and casting a black person in the role. It’s ‘safer’ to anchor the change to an unchanged Batman in a big budget kind of film process.”

WILL THE X-MEN RIDE TO THE RESCUE?

Now that the vast number of X-Men characters look all but certain to be rebooted under Disney’s control soon and that that gives an opportunity for characters like Storm and Bishop to finally get their due in a lead film, there is a feeling that there will actually be fewer superhero films made as part of the deal and therefore fewer slots in which each mutant will have to fight the other 8,000 Marvel characters – including some who are now household names – for those slots.

“I’d be surprised if any other character besides Wolverine will have a standalone film out of the X-Men for a while,” said Williams.

WILL UPDATED “BLADE” AND “SPAWN” FILMS LEAD THE WAY?

Back before comic book films were as huge as they are now, “Spawn” was a modest hit starring Michael Jai White and “Blade” was a huge hit in 1998, spawning (pun intended) 2 sequels. So, both are known quantities that have had fans clamoring for new installments for 2 decades.

With a new “Spawn” starring Jamie Foxx confirmed and rumors that Wesley Snipes will return for TWO “Blade” films, hope is high that thee films not only happen but blow their predecessors away, leading to more films.

“Both Snipes and Todd (McFarlane, Spawn’s creator and director of the new film) know their bread and butter and with tech as advanced as it is now, I’m sure they’d like to see what their present work would look like while they can still do it,” said Williams. “Todd’s got total control and Snipes knows his movie was the Originator of the success of the Marvel movies.”
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Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is a screenwriter and freelance reporter from Chicago -- currently living in Los Angeles and covering A-list entertainment for various outlets, including Emmys.com. She has worked for: Miramax, MTV & VH1, The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Channel, Paramount Pictures, and for iconic indie film producer Roger Corman.

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