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Antoine Fuqua on Clearing Paths for Black Filmmakers, Taking Denzel International

The 'Equalizer 2' director also broke down his upcoming slate of projects

LOCARNO, Switzerland — Originally announced as a movie re-teaming, post “Southpaw,” Antoine Fuqua and Jake Gyllenhaal’s “The Man Who Made It Snow” is now set up at Epix as a limited TV series, Fuqua said Saturday at Locarno Festival, where he will present Denzel Washington-starrer “The Equalizer 2” at the 8,000 seat Piazza Grande, one of the biggest open-air cinemas in Europe.

Inspired by the true story of Max Mermelstein, a Jewish hotel engineer who becomes embroiled unwittingly and then unwillingly in the building billion-dollar U.S. drug trade of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel, “The Man Who Made It Snow” was originally written by Michael Kingston and Brett Tabor. A new screenwriter is now being brought in to transform the movie into a drama series. Gyllenhaal may or may not be involved, according to his schedule, said Fuqua.

“What I love about it is that Max was a nerd, an engineer. He fell in love with a Colombian girl. He didn’t realize some of her family members were part of the Escobar cartel,” said Fuqua. He added: “When she was lonely, she wanted him to bring over her family, so he started helping smuggle them in and instead of two people showing up it would be 12 people, then 15 people. And the people were all part of the cartel. He was part of the reason Pablo was worth almost $7 billion dollars.”

Fuqua will produce “The Man” and maybe direct the first and last episode. The now-series forms part of a building slate of film and TV work which makes him not only one of the most prominent, but also busiest black film and TV directors in Hollywood.

Two trends run through the projects. One is a growing interest in international. Fuqua is on board to direct “The Street,” from a screenplay by “Goodfellas” scribe Nicholas Pileggi, for Tooley Entertainment, eOne and Pressman Films. Pic is a thriller set against the backdrops of New York and Shanghai.

“We are just now getting the script going and I’m excited about that movie,” Fuqua said. He added: “I think it can be a good version of where we are in the financial market and how that world works. ‘Wall Street’ was one thing but now we are in a whole different world that is much more international. Obviously China plays a big part of that, so the film would touch on a modern American ‘Wall Street.’”

Fuqua and “Sully” writer Todd Komarnicki are developing a movie about the 2003 terrorist attack at Mike’s Place, a beachside blues bar in Israel, Komarnicki to direct.

Fuqua would also love to make “The Equalizer 3,” with Washington’s character, outlier Robert McCall who serves unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed, traveling to Europe.

Reasons for this cut several ways. There are few more reliable stars in Hollywood than Denzel Washington whose 10 movies, this decade, all made for studios but midrange in budget, have, save for “Roman J. Israel Esq.,” all punched solid domestic figures in the $57 million (“Fences”) to $126 million (“Safe House”) range. Only one, however, Tony Scott’s “Unstoppable,” has made more money in international than domestic.

Traditional Hollywood lore is that back stars don’t sell so well in international. At Locarno’s StepIn think tank discussions on Thursday, “Black List” creator Franklin Leonard questioned whether that had ever been true. Fuqua at least thinks that there is more audience potential for Washington outside the U.S.

“I think Denzel is international. He’s a movie star. I don’t see any reason he should be based in only one place. It’s like James Bond. Those films move all around, it’s fantastic,” he said in Locarno.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by Glen Wilson Columbia/Sony/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (9765573i)Denzel Washington"The Equalizer 2" Film - 2018
CREDIT: Glen Wilson Columbia/Sony/Kobal/Shutterstock

“I think Denzel is a guy that can translate anywhere. It would be fun to see him in a different environment, to see him overseas in a European setting and speaking other languages. I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t happen. I would be more [than] interested,” he argued.

But such reasoning is part of a larger Fuqua interest: the empowerment of black America. He is currently concluding a four-part series for HBO on Mohammed Ali. And, while “The Equalizer 2” has been slammed by many critics for the sadism of its violence, or middle-age male wish fulfillment, a lot of Fuqua’s films talk in many ways about violence. So is it the violence Fuqua is interested in, or is it the means to the end of entertainment?

“Both,” according to Fuqua, but insists Ali is different.

“In Ali’s case, and in Sugar Ray Robinson’s case, they didn’t love boxing, but they were great at it. Boxing lead to them being able to help other people.”

Does Fuqua feel then that his films, which are beginning to near around about $200 million in worldwide grosses, can equally help the black creative community?

“I do. I think it helps,” Fuqua recognises. “My feeling with color is you can only win with success. So if people look upon my color, and in Hollywood they look at my color and they look at the numbers, then maybe the guy behind me can do the same thing as long as the numbers make sense.”

He adds: “That’s the only way I think you can get past the color barrier is success. You have to be successful.”

A surprise U.S. No. 1, outperforming expectations and fellow rookie “Mama Mia” by $1.06 million, “The Equalizer 2” punched $36.0 million over its opening July 20-22 weekend, was tracking at $71.1 million after two weeks, and looks likely to end up slightly below the original’s $101.5 million domestic box office earnings.

The jury’s still out on international where many major territories have still to open: Germany (Aug. 16,), U.K. (Aug.17), France (Aug. 19). Fuqua’s presence at Locarno is part of a larger cause.

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