When Wesley Snipes first slashed his way through vampire covens in 1997's Blade, he set the stage for a new, action-packed approach to comic book adaptations, with a black superhero who could kick some supernatural butt. But in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Snipes revealed that he would have changed the game even earlier if he could—because in the mid-1990s, he tried to make a Black Panther movie.
That's the Black Panther, of course. T'Challa, King of Wakanda. The guy from the Marvel movie that's gearing up for a record-breaking box office.
When Marvel came to Snipes and his manager with the project, it was basically an instant yes. For Snipes, Black Panther represented an alternative to common mud-huts-and-starving-orphans depictions of African life. "He was noble, and he was the antithesis of the stereotypes presented and portrayed about Africans, African history and the great kingdoms of Africa," Snipes told THR.
He was also intrigued by the "forward-thinking" concept of Wakanda, a wildly prosperous African nation that had never been colonized by European invaders, both as a technological giant on the contemporary world stage and as a nod to history. "Many people don’t know that there were fantastic, glorious periods of African empires and African royalty," said Snipes in the THR interview, "and some of the wealthiest men in the world compared to the wealth of today." And he's not kidding; Mansa Musa, ruler of the West African Mali Empire in the 14th century, is considered to be the richest person who ever lived, with net worth estimates of $400 billion to over $4.6 trillion in today's money.
Part of Wakanda. Check out that aesthetic!
Would a black-led superhero movie with something revolutionary to say about heroism and black identity have made it on the big screen in the mid-90s? We'll never know, partially because Marvel declared bankruptcy in 1996. It's not easy to produce a film set in beautiful Wakanda when your studio has no money.
It also didn't help that Snipes never found the right director for the project. He got as far as meeting with John Singleton, director of 1991's critically acclaimed Boyz N Tha Hood, but soon realized that their visions for the movie were at odds. While Snipes wanted a more straightforward superhero flick, Singleton was leaning toward the real-world implications of the term "Black Panther"—as in a black civil rights activist. "See, he’s got the spirit of the Black Panther, but he is trying to get his son to join the organization," Snipes remembered him saying. "'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.' "
Eventually, the project fell to the wayside. But something good came out of it: without his failed Black Panther film, we might never have seen Snipes in one of his greatest ever roles. He readjusted his superhero dreams and applied them to Blade, which as we all know is a late 20th century masterpiece. "Hey, we can’t do the King of Wakanda and the vibranium and the hidden kingdom in Africa, let’s do a black vampire," recalled Snipes. From Wakanda to that vampire club in Blade with the blood sprinklers...it's a strange journey, but not too strange for the Daywalker.
Who would you have wanted to see in a 1990s Black Panther movie? Tell us below!
Read more about Black Panther!
- The first reactions to Black Panther are glowing.
- 8 things we learned on the Black Panther set.
- Marvel's giving away a Black Panther starter comic.