Over the weekend, “Black Panther” smashed box-office records. The Marvel tentpole starring Chadwick Boseman landed the fifth-biggest domestic biggest opening ever, with $192 million in ticket sales. That number also made the film the most successful movie to ever debut in February, passing “Deadpool.”
A big-screen adaptation of “Black Panther” has been in the works for a long time. In 1992, Wesley Snipes tried to play T’Challa, before he went to make the “Blade” trilogy. In an interview for a Variety cover story on “Black Panther,” Snipes shared what drew him to the character. And why he couldn’t quite get the greenlight from Hollywood 25 years ago.
How did you first come up with the idea to make a Black Panther movie?
I had a good agent at the time who was sensitive to some of the artistic concerns that I had. We thought it would be very cool and atypical for a Marvel comic-book character. Something that would be appeal to white people, black people, Asian people, and have some martial arts in it and expose the world of Africa in a way that most people were unfamiliar with and very contrary to the stereotypes that are projected about the continent.
You were drawn to the depiction of Wakanda in the comic books?
That was part of it. In school, my primary studies were in acting and theatrical stage performance. My minor was in African diaspora studies. I had some history of Africa in its glory days and some of the kingdoms of old. When I read “Black Panther” and they had Wakanda on there, it immediately triggered those memories of studying the ancient empires lost in history. The coolest part of it is Wakanda was such a technologically advanced country that blended technology and ancient times quite effectively.
How far did you get?
I contributed to a script. There were maybe three different scripts that were penned for the project. It was quite challenging finding the right director. We wanted to keep it true to the comic book. In the comic book, Wakanda is a mecca of sorts of diverse culture and beliefs and systems and skills and warriors and, of course, the martial arts. African martial arts was featured in our version, which most people in our world didn’t know exist. It would have been a culturally diverse, shithole! [He laughs, referring to Donald Trump.] A very rich culturally diverse shithole.
What did your suit look like?
We never got to the costume part. We figured it was going to be leotard tights. We never even got to a budget.
Why do you think Hollywood didn’t see the potential in this idea back in 1992?
I don’t think it was unique to me. There are so many ideas that were passed over by the majors that became iconic. At the time, there were no templates for it. Marvel was going through some restructuring. I was quite busy at the time. I don’t recall it being that traumatic. We went on to do other interesting things. Within two years, the “Blade” opportunity came around, which was just as cool. Hey, it’s good to be ahead of the game and being alive long enough to see its fruition.
Are you going to see “Black Panther”?
Oh, definitely. I’m going to see it in a regular theater. I’m going to sit with the folks and talk to the screen. It can be kind of funny to go see this one. “Why aren’t you up there?”
“Black Panther” is the first Hollywood comic-book blockbuster with a primarily black cast and black director. Do you think we are at a turning point in the industry, where studios are realizing the importance of telling diverse stories?
I don’t know if it’s enough yet to really assesse a shift. However, it is a big moment. Is it impactful? Is it going to influence change, break some stereotypes and inspire people? Absolutely. And will there be other business around [movies starring] African Americans and people of color? Absolutely. I think it’s a great time. It’s a great opportunity and a great seed that’s been planted. Whether the film is fantastic or just ok, once people realize the economic upside of inclusive and diverse muti-cultural intellectual properties, there’s going to be a greater appetite for it. The world has changed dramatically and the Internet has brought the divides closer. There’s a lot more people who can get access to content than in the 90s. I think we’ll see a very different landscape soon, with new products being produced all over the world featuring diverse talent, diverse stories and hopefully some of them are really good.
Do you think Donald Trump will see “Black Panther”?
Yes, I do. I absolutely do, because they’re rich! They are super rich. He’s going to see the movie.