Discuss: Is Marvel Afraid Of Making A ‘Black Panther’ Movie?

Discuss: Is Marvel Afraid Of Making A 'Black Panther' Movie?

For a major studio solely in the business of making blockbuster tentpole movies, Marvel, to its credit, does take its fair share of risks. Casting Robert Downey Jr, an actor coming out of a decade or so of drug and alcohol addiction, and whose last film as a lead, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," made under $5 million at the box office, as the lead in "Iron Man" was certainly a risk, but one that paid off handsomely. Making their next big character a space Viking, and hiring Kenneth Branagh, a helmer known more for his work with Shakespeare than blockbusters, was another roll of the dice. And perhaps the biggest of all was going into production on "The Avengers," a vastly expensive team-up of their characters, before they knew that "Thor" and "Captain America" were hits. And that one turned out to be a $1.5 billion hit. So the risks are paying off.

And Marvel continues to make smart, but potentially troublesome bets that won't necessarily pay off. The studio brought in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" director Shane Black to helm "Iron Man 3," and the "Thor" and "Captain America" sequels are being looked after by filmmakers who've worked principally in TV. And on Saturday at Comic-Con, they announced arguably their most ambitious film yet: "Guardians Of The Galaxy," based on the space-faring super team that includes among its members a bald, green alien, a badass ninja lady, a tree, and a talking raccoon. It's their biggest gamble to date, without a question. But something at a Comic-Con press conference made that feel particularly sour.

The studio's co-president Louis D'Esposito (who helmed the upcoming "Item 47" short), responded to a question about the possibility of a "Black Panther" film, as was suggested by a report a few months back, and responded "He has a lot of the same characteristics of a Captain America: great character, good values… But it's a little more difficult, maybe, creating [a world like Wakanda, the African country of which the character, T'Challa, is the ruler]. It's always easier basing it here. For instance, 'Iron Man 3' is rooted right here in Los Angeles and New York. When you bring in other worlds, you're always faced with those difficulties."

And Twitch put it better than we ever could with their headline: "Marvel: We Can Make A Movie About A Talking Raccoon But A Black Man Is 'A Little More Difficult.'" Given that "Thor" managed to involve, again, a space Viking from Asgard, and the "Guardians Of The Galaxy" will presumably have to introduce characters from all over space, it feels spectacularly disingenuous of D'Esposito to say that it's harder to set up Black Panther's world.

Marvel is, of course, under no obligation to make "Black Panther." They can make whatever they like, it's their money. But there seems to be a definite fan base out there to see a "Black Panther" movie (our piece on potential casting for the film is one of our most popular of the last few months), and it would certainly be less of a headache for the studio than a CGI space epic.  And yet "Guardians Of The Galaxy" came first, and given D'Esposito's response, it seems that the studio, as risky as they've been, are actively afraid of making a "Black Panther" movie.

To be clear, we're not accusing anyone at Marvel of racism, or anything like that. We're sure they're excited to add "Black Panther" to their stable, and there are bound to be advocates there who want to push forward with this film. But right now, they're scared of doing so in fear of putting a box-office ceiling on the film, and in particular, of doing so internationally. Global grosses have been key to the success of their recent films — 60% of the take from "Thor" came from abroad, and 58% for "The Avengers," and the perception is that, Will Smith aside, international audience don't turn up to see African-American stars.

And to a degree, that could be backed up by statistics. Internationally, if you exclude Will Smith pictures, the only movies in the all-time international top-grossers with a black actor appearing in anything close to a leading role are… Roland Emmerich's "2012," in which Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton and Danny Glover took leads alongside John Cusack; and "The Matrix Reloaded," in which Laurence Fishburne plays second fiddle to Keanu Reeves. In the U.S all-time top 100, you also get "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Rush Hour 2," but each were more than a decade ago (in the case of the former, closer to 30 years ago). And you know what uther movies aren't in the top 100 all-time grossers? "Thor" and "Captain America."

But Marvel is in a position to change things. No one went to see Robert Downey Jr, or Chris Hemsworth, or Chris Evans headline films before they headlined Marvel movies either. And with Will Smith still being the biggest movie star in the world, we simply don't buy that international audiences are somehow racially biased against African-American actors ("Hancock" and "I Am Legend," sold entirely on Smith alone, sit pretty at number 60 and number 73 in the all-time international charts, with "Men In Black 3," which people aren't going to see because of Josh Brolin, at 65 and climbing).

Marvel has now reached the position at which they've successfully created a brand, and we suspect that if they make a Marvel-labelled "Black Panther" movie, people will turn up in large numbers because it's from the people behind "The Avengers." To say that it's tricky to start a film off in a fictional African country, when they've brought "Thor" from Asgard to Budget-Friendly Backlot, New Mexico, and when "Mad Max" sequel "Fury Road" is shooting in Namibia, Africa, because it's cheaper than doing so in Australia, it stinks of cowardice. If the script's not right for the film, say that. But you start to lose goodwill when you make excuses.

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Comments

d

"But it's a little more difficult, maybe, creating [a world like Wakanda, the African country of which the character, T'Challa, is the ruler]. It's always easier basing it here. For instance, 'Iron Man 3' is rooted right here in Los Angeles and New York. When you bring in other worlds, you're always faced with those difficulties."

Nice excuse well not really . This dude gets paid millions of dollars could have come up with a better lie. Lets look at the facts since this studio thinks African American's are retarded Thor takes place in Asgard a high tech off world sanctuary. Your precious Guardians of the universe takes place in space not Los Angeles. Im really starting to get sick of peoples lame excuses . Trees and cgi structures to hard for this studio ? This is exactly why African Americans are increasingly starting to watch anime and support Asian films . Honestly how can you blame drug dealers and gang bangers if the only thing they have to look up to is HANCOCK the drunken ass whole .The first super hero not to get the girl . We know it Marvel your extremely racist. Still doing the whole Wille lynch thing i see . No positive role models .

Miranda

I really want to see a black superhero but then again, I'm afraid of it not doing well. But it is 2014 now and it's about time for a black superhero, I think.

Xmasevebaby

It is cowardice, pure and uncut. A Black Panther movie would create buzz amongst Black Hollywood that would rival Carmen Jones, Dreamgirls, and The Color Purple.

Marvel Studios has the juice to bring Denzel, Will Smith, Viola Davis, and other elites to the table to get this movie done. The Hughes Brothers are talent in search of a massive box office hit, ditto Spike Lee (who referenced Black Panther in Do The Right Thing).

If there is a hesitancy from moviegoers to pay good money to watch a multi-billionaire crime fighter with world class intellect, next generation weaponry, and the unparalleled ass kicking skills, no one bothered to mention that to Warner Bros., Tim Burton, or Christopher Nolan.

Mike B.

This was always one of the least popular and successful characters Marvel had. Couple that with modern politics and the New Black Panther party, you have a recipe for disaster. If this gets made, I predict a lot of movie theater problems including violence.

Mike

But a Black Panther movie is at scripting stage, no? If they're that worried, maybe they should introduce him in the Avengers 2 & spin him off, Hawkeye essentially wasn't introduced until the Avengers and he worked as an integral part of the team.

Tom Cruise

yes.

James

I believe Marvel's biggest fear to this film is the title alone, The Black Panther. If that is the case then change it to simply Panther. Unlike Blade, Panther is about a strong African nation and has a following mostly in the black community.
The problem with trying to put someone like Will Smith in the role is that his casting would infuriate the Black Community. Let me first explain, I am going to guess that none of the comments posted so far are from any person of color. Apologies if I am the first black person here but I have to say that Will Smith is not love by everyone who is of African decent.
This gives Marvel 2 strikes when you add Will Smith and the title of the movie. The only way around that is it has to have a very strong screenplay that would be love by all people of all race.

Andrew

Um, so what about the Blade trilogy? Or that they used the black version of Nick Fury?

Daniel

They should just do Luke Cage first. He's a New York hero. Hell, he's an Avenger. They can throw him in the sequel first if they want to lay the groundwork for a spin-off film. Also: if Idris Elba doesn't play Luke Cage, I will be pissed.

COMMENTIER

I don't see why they don't cast a black actor to play an established white super hero. The race of the character wouldn't change anything about their backstory, why not just create a black Hank Pym?

berk

It doesn't have anything to do with setting but the fact that it's a black lead character with a largely black supporting cast (if it were to be set in Wakanda and not, say, in New York while T'Challa was visiting the U.N. or something).

Marvel's tight purse strings are not suddenly going to open for Will Smith, whose name recognition and star power make executives and audiences see past color.

Marvel has a track record of playing it conservative when it comes to finances, and investing in a black-led superhero film without somebody like Smith (who wouldn't want their face covered while in costume or lower their asking price when Marvel is sitting on a billion) is not going to happen.

It took George Lucas 20 years to get Red Tails made and that didn't exactly light up the box office.

Its too bad, since Black Panther is a great character (a genius scientist/adventurer king ruling over one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world) that could not only be the focus of a smart action/thriller but also be a great addition to the Avengers group dynamic.

cinematic_high

Marvel can afford to brag….and be cowards

ME

RE: Rebecca, If I am not mistaken I believe that JACQUES DEMOLAY is speaking rather sarcastically in response to the quotes of Marvel Comics reasons behind taking such a risk. Not sure though is is sometimes difficult to read the tone behind the words…

Rebecca

JACQUES DEMOLAY- Your opinion is irrelevant, if the audience is able to suspend disbelief for a spider man, a God, a person who can talk to sea creatures, and all of the many ridiculous super heroes out there, people can accept that there is a fake African nation. All you are doing is choosing the base element of the story to say that it is not possible, disregarding all of the things that the audience has been asked to do for these characters to seem plausible int he first place. Just say you don't want a black panther movie and be done with it- or at least make a legitimate argument.

Jacques DeMolay

It seems to me that everyone is overlooking (intentionally) the fact that making up a fake planet in outer space is actually far easier on the suspension of disbelief factor than making up a fake country that's supposed to exist right here on Earth. You're being disingenuous when saying things like "Oh really, doing a movie about a talking racoon is easier than doing a movie about a black guy?" when the issue isn't the character itself, but the SETTING. When you set a story in the fanastic realm of outer space, anything goes. But doing a movie that requires you to ask your audience to pretend there is a country in Africa that isn't actually there is absolutely retarded.

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