Julius Onah was on my short list of black filmmakers who I thought Marvel should at least talk to about directing "Black Panther" – filmmakers whose names haven’t at all been a part of the conversation (at least what has been publicly revealed). It now appears that it’s Ryan Coogler’s job to lose.
But don’t cry for Onah (assuming you were), because he’s still attached to direct 2 high-profile studio projects – an update on one of them I’m writing about today.
Earlier last year, Onah was tapped by Paramount and J.J. Abrams, to direct the sci-fi thriller "God Particle," from a script that was penned by Oren Uziel (“22 Jump Street”), with Abrams supervising.
The script, which was said to have been one of Hollywood’s most buzzed-about "open directing assignments" (partly because there had been lots of secrecy around it, and J.J. Abrams had been attached to produce), follows an American space station crew that’s abandoned after a problem with a Hadron accelerator causes Earth to completely vanish.
Today brings word that “Star Trek Beyond” co-writer Doug Jung has been hired by Paramount and J.J. Abrams’ to rewrite the script for “God Particle," which, given available evidence, reads like a good idea, given Jung’s sci-fi cred. Although I hope, if only for Onah’s sake, this isn’t the beginning of a series of rewrites, as the script gets passed from one writer to the next – which typically spells trouble (too many cooks, etc…).
No ETA yet on when we can expect "God Particle." I’d assume it would be Onah’s next project. Although, soon after he was tapped for "God Particle," another major studio, Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures, signed him up to direct an adaptation of Marcus Sakey’s novel "Brilliance," which David Koepp was scripting, with Joe Roth and Palek Patel producing.
The 2013 Edgar Award Nominee for Best Paperback Original, Brilliance follows several different people – called "Brilliants" – who possess special abilities: a little girl who is able to read people’s darkest secrets; a man is can sense patterns in the stock market and gets rich; a woman who make herself invisible. As the novel’s synopsis continues: "They’re called “Brilliants,” and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in—and betray his own kind."
Reviews of the novel call it a "breakneck thriller" with "shrewd social commentary;" a "gripping tale of a world fundamentally different and yet horrifyingly similar to our own, where being born gifted can be a terrible curse."
The project has "tent pole potential" as was previously reported, which will of course be a great thing for Onah. There aren’t exactly a ton of black directors helming tent pole movies – especially young black directors. Will Smith was originally attached to star in "Brilliance," but dropped out due to scheduling. Jared Leto later replaced him. Although this was a year ago, so a lot could’ve changed since then.
Long-time readers of this blog, going way back to its early days 6 years ago, will remember Julius Onah’s name on the very first S&A’s Black Filmmakers to watch list in mid-2009.
At the time, the Nigerian-born filmmaker was pursuing an MFA in film at NYU’s Tisch School, and had been selected as a Dean’s Fellow; His short film, "The Boundary," which starred Alexander Siddig was designated by Amnesty International as one of its “Movies That Matter,“ and was acquired by HBO. Also at the time, he was working on his feature film debut titled, "The Girl Is In Trouble" (starring Columbus Short), which was executive produced by Spike Lee.
That indie feature traveled the film festival circuit, and was eventually released this year.
By the way, Julius Onah’s twin-brother, Anthony Onah, happens to be an award-winning filmmaker as well. We’ve also featured his work on this site.