Black Panther Will NOT Be the First Black Superhero Movie

I don’t know about you, but I was quite impressed with the Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War. The trailer for his solo movie looks good, too, so I’m looking forward to it. But, apparently, some are touting this as the first black superhero film, and that’s simply not true. (How quickly they forget!) Someone in a Facebook group I belong to (“Geeks Under Grace Community”) brought this up this past weekend, and a few of us had fun coming up with movies from the past three decades where the lead character was a black superhero. Here’s what we came up with (in chronological order):

ABAR: Black Superman (1977) — OK, no one in our group came up with this one. I’d never heard of it, either, until I did a little extra research for this post. As part of the blaxploitation trend of the times (see Honorable Mentions below), this flick was about “the brothers” fighting against injustice at the hands of racist Whites and crooked politicians. “Upon moving into a bigoted neighborhood, the scientist father of a persecuted black family gives a superpower elixir to a tough bodyguard [played by Tobar Mayo], who thus becomes a superpowered crimefighter.” According to one IMDB reviewer, “The movie is actually racist in that it makes every single white person racist against blacks.” Also, “[Abar’s] powers consist of making a constant ‘swoosh’ noise every time he does something seemingly supernatural, and these things are downright hilarious. [For example, he] sees teenagers getting high and wasting time, so he turns them into college graduates (complete with the outfit!).” Despite all this and some atrocious acting, it’s one of those so-bad-it’s-fun movies (watched in context of the times, of course).

The Meteor Man (1993) — Robert Townsend starred as ‘Jefferson Reed’, a “high school teacher from a troubled inner city Washington D.C. neighborhood [who] becomes a super-powered hero and takes on the gang that has been terrorizing his streets.” Sounds somewhat like “The Greatest American Hero” TV series from the early-’80s. Anyway, this action-comedy wasn’t exactly a big hit critically or otherwise, and it lost money, but I think it does have its fans. (I confess, I never saw it.) Lots of familiar faces in this one, including Eddie Griffin, Marla Gibbs, Robert Guillaume, James Earl Jones, Don Cheadle, Bill Cosby, and Sinbad.

Blankman (1994) — This one sounds even sillier, which is probably why I didn’t watch it, either. As per the synopsis on IMDB, “Darryl is a childlike man with a genius for inventing various gadgets out of junk. When he stumbles on a method to make his clothes bulletproof, he decides to use his skills to be the lowest budgeted superhero of all.” One reviewer said, “How could you not enjoy this movie? It was actually enjoyable to watch Damon Wayans’ character make all these far-out gadgets… some of which look totally outlandish, but actually make sense! Sure, the comedy may be a little too goofy for some, but in the end, it helps.” So, maybe I will check it out… when I’m in a goofy mood.

Spawn (1997) — I liked it! It wasn’t great, mind you. But, as I recall, at least it was fairly faithful to the Image Comics series by Todd McFarlane. (It has been a long time since I’ve seen it, though.) The cast was pretty good — Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo, Martin Sheen, D.B. Sweeney — and the F/X weren’t bad for that era. (Hopefully, they’ll be even better for the upcoming remake.) Its IMDB rating may not be much better than Meteor Man‘s, but it did OK at the box office. It was also the first serious superhero film with a black lead. (Yes, I know Abar was meant to be “serious”, but it was a low-budget, ’70s cheese-fest.)

Steel (1997) — Premiering two weeks after Spawn was this travesty. Starring Shaquille O’Neal, about the only thing this movie retained from the comics was that the main character is a large black man, an engineer, who builds himself a suit of armor to fight bad guys in. Otherwise, it had no connection to Superman and the rest of the DC Universe. As one reviewer put it, “This film is so bad it reaches a certain quality of lousiness only reserved for the very worst of bad ideas. I mean – Shaquille O’Niell (sic) in a steel suit with a super weapon made from the contents of a lost-and-found at the scrap yard? Please!” Not even the talents of Annabeth Gish, Judd Nelson, or Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft!) could save it.

Blade (1998) — NOW we’re talkin’… The tale of the half-vampire/half-mortal slicing and dicing evil vampires in defense of the human race, while fighting his own (un)natural urges, was the real deal. As one fan put it, “[F]inally my prayers have been answered with Blade. This movie pops right out of the pages onto the screen with sheer violence, blood, martial arts, weapons, fire, the good against evil, etc. Yeah sure a lot of action flicks contain all these goodies, and most of them have bombed. But not Blade, the movie was filmed just right, not going overboard, delivering a good length and never a dull moment.” Wesley Snipes’ bad@$$ery was exactly what was called for, and his co-stars were great, too! As usually happens, the sequels (Blade II (2002), Blade: Trinity (2004) weren’t quite as good, though Blade II performed even better than Blade at the box office. I really need to watch this trilogy again….

Catwoman (2004) — “A shy woman, endowed with the speed, reflexes, and senses of a cat, walks a thin line between criminal and hero, even as a detective doggedly pursues her, fascinated by both of her personas.” This film was another incredibly disappointing adaptation of a comic book character… sort of. I mean, yes, there’s the feline-themed criminal/heroine who attracts the particular interest of a detective. Beyond that, she was virtually unrecognizable as the DC Comics character she was supposed to be. Also, as one IMDB reviewer said, “It was poorly acted, predictable, unenthralling, clichéd nonsense. And that was just the first half hour, at which point, for the sake of my brain and stopping it melting with the sheer tedium, I walked out of the cinema…. Utterly abysmal”

Hancock (2008) — This is actually one of my favorite Will Smith films. If you’re unfamiliar, ‘Hancock’ is a powerful superhero “who has become a joke because of his alcoholism and clumsiness. He has also become the most hated man in Los Angeles. Though he has saved many lives, he also destroyed a lot of property, costing the city millions every time he goes into action. When he saves the life of PR expert Ray Embrey from an oncoming train, the executive is thankful and believes he can restore Hancock’s image as a true superhero….” I would modify that to say it was his being a super-jerk (which was connected to the alcoholism) and recklessness (not clumsiness) that made him so hated. This one was a lot of fun! In fact, I just re-watched two trailers for it, and now I’m in the mood to watch it again. (Adding it to my list…)

Honorable Mentions:

The Last Dragon (1985) — The ’70s & ’80s had several movies with black (anti-)hero protagonists. I think it was a subset of the “blaxploitation” (sub)genre. There were private detectives (e.g., Shaft), drug-dealers trying to leave “the life” (e.g., Super Fly), vengeance-seeking former Green Berets (e.g., Slaughter), martial artists (e.g., The Last Dragon, Black Samurai), even a vigilante nurse (e.g., Coffy). But, they weren’t exactly superheroes, so they don’t really qualify here.

Black Cougar (2002) — I never saw this one, which apparently went straight to video. It sounds a bit cheesy to me, but if you’re in the mood….

So, as you can see, 2018’s Black Panther will *not* be the first black superhero film, nor the first one by Marvel (since ‘Blade’ is a Marvel property). It won’t even be the first good superhero film with a black lead. I can’t help but notice, though, that the three best films above (i.e., Spawn, Blade, & Hancock) were about violent anti-heroes with bad attitudes. (Well, at least part of the time.) Is that a commentary on the movie-going public, or about the studios? Or, was it simply that those are characters that writers enjoy writing and actors enjoy acting? Or, maybe it’s just coincidence? Maybe a little of all of that? I dunno…

I’m really glad that Black Panther will get the full Marvel treatment, headlining his own dramatic, big-budget, action-adventure (and non-comedic) movie. Even better is that it will take place in Wakanda, the mysterious African nation that Black Panther (aka King, formerly Prince, T’Challa) now rules. It will be a great opportunity to not only see a much different region of the Earth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it will allow audiences to experience the very different cultural environment (including warring tribal factions) from which this particular hero comes.

Hope you enjoyed this little historical review. Did we miss any? Let me know if you come up with another….

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Fan-Cast: Black Panther, part 1

If I’m as big a fan of Marvel Comics as I keep sayin’, why the heck haven’t I done any Marvel-based fan-casting, yet? I dunno.

Black Panther

Black Panther

But, this week — my 50th post! — and next week will fix that. (Woo-hoo!) I finally scheduled a couple posts for a Marvel hero and (a few of) his supporting characters. Specifically, I wanted to cover one that was getting some attention, due to current or future-planned TV or movie treatments. I considered Luke Cage, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, and Namor, but I’m not quite satisfied with my choices for them, yet. But, I think I’m pretty solid with Black Panther. And who better, right? With the planned supporting role in Captain America: Civil War (rel. May 6, 2016), followed by the recently announced solo movie (rel. Nov. 3, 2017), along with confirmed casting for the lead, I decided I may as well put my own suggestions out onto the interwebs. too. 😉

First, a couple comments on Chadwick Boseman (6′,b.1976), who nabbed the role after impressive performances as two legends: Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get on Up. I haven’t actually seen the movies myself, nor anything else Boseman has been in, so I can’t personally comment on his acting. But, if he can put on some muscle, develop some cat-like athletic and martial-arts moves (maybe train with Michael Jai White?), and possibly speak in a believable African accent, I’m sure he will do fine.

Speaking of White (6′,b.1967), many others have suggested him for the role. He definitely has the physique and the martial arts moves. But, even though he still looks good, he’s too old for the role, in my opinion (see below). Others have suggested Idris Elba (6’2.75″,b.1972). He’s a great actor but, besides already playing Heimdall in the Thor movies, he is also a bit too old. Morris Chestnut (5’10.5″,b.1969)? Same thing. Another actor I thought would be great but who is already in his 40s is Hisham Tawfiq (?,b.19??), who plays Dembe on “The Blacklist”. I couldn’t find a birthdate or age (or height, for that matter) for him anywhere, but his resume says he served as a Marine in Operation: Desert Storm (Jan./Feb. 1991). Assuming he was roughly 20 then, that makes him early- to mid-40s now. I also considered Omar Sy (6’2.75″,b.1978) and B.J. Britt (5’10”,b.????), who are closer to our desired age but are already established heroes in the Marvel Universe — Bishop and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Triplett, respectively. (Not a knockout argument, I realize.)

BP (older, simpler costume) - by Alex Ross

BP (older, simpler costume) – by Alex Ross

King T’Chaka of Wakanda (who was also Black Panther, leader of the Panther Clan) was murdered by Ulysses Klaw when his first-born son, T’Challa, was in his teens. (T’Challa wounded Klaw before he escaped.) The young prince soon went off to university in Europe & the U.S., earning a PhD in physics from Oxford, while also training himself to eventually avenge his father. He returned a few years later to take the throne of Wakanda and re-acquire the mantle of the Black Panther by defeating the current holder of the title.

I was always under the impression that T’Challa was in his early- to mid-20s at the time, which is when most people go to college/university. I would like to see the writers/producers include this “origin story” in the Black Panther movie, though I suppose the younger version could be done with another actor or by using CGI to de-age the lead actor. Also, it could be done in a sort of “flashback” fashion, so that the younger T’Challa only has brief screentime. Whether or not they include the “origin story”, my preference then would be to have the lead actor at least appear to be in his mid- to late-20s. However, if they choose to introduce T’Challa/Panther as the already-established ruler of Wakanda (and experienced Black Panther), then they could use someone who is or looks a bit older, keeping in mind that they want someone who will still be believable in the part after 2 or 3 more movies after the first solo film. (On a side note, this is one of the reasons I think it is past time for RDJr to give up being Iron Man.) Boseman is a little older than this (38), but he is youthful looking and can still pass for 30ish.

Physically, T’Challa should be roughly 6′ tall, well-muscled but not overly so. He is a top-notch martial artist, Olympic-level gymnast/acrobat, exceptional hunter/tracker, and adept at using various traditional African weapons. (Guns, too, of course.) As the Black Panther, the Heart-Shaped Herb — which also links him to Bast, the Panther God(dess) — enhances his senses, strength, stamina, etc., to near-superhuman levels. (After several years, Bast heightened his powers to superhuman levels, but that’s not the story we want to see.) Additionally, he makes use of advanced tech in his cat-themed costume and paraphernalia. Personality-wise, T’Challa is a proud, tribal leader with an appreciation for tradition, but he is also someone who embraces new ideas and desires to use Wakanda’s rich, natural resources to make it a thriving, global leader in technology. He has a genius-level intellect, is a master tactician & strategist, a very capable leader, as well as a sharp businessman.

I already rattled off several actors and reasons why I don’t think they should play T’Challa, the Black Panther. So, who do I have in mind? Unfortunately, I could not come up with many who fit the bill both physically and in my preferred mid- to late-20s age range. (I will continue to keep an eye out, though.) But, I found two more actors in their mid- to late-30s who might pass for 30ish, plus one in his late 20s:

Clé Bennett

Clé Bennett

Ever since I saw Clé Bennett (5’10”,b.????) in the 4th season of “Flashpoint” a few years ago, I thought he would make a great Black Panther. (Not a member of the revolutionary black nationalist organization, of course!) He has been in a few genre series like “La Femme Nikita”, “Code Name: Eternity”, “Odyssey 5”, “Arrow”, and “Lost Girl”. I think Bennett’s got both the talent and the physicality to slip into the Panther’s skin and give a great performance.

 

Quincy Chad

Quincy Chad

Quincy Chad (6’2″,b.1977) is an ex-football player and fitness enthusiast who turned to acting. Beginning with some stage work, he doesn’t have a lot of TV/film experience. But, he’s had small roles on shows like “The Following”, “White Collar”, and “Person of Interest”. Plus, he definitely has the physical size and athleticism that we need for T’Challa/Panther. This could be a breakout role for him!

 

Aldis Hodge

Aldis Hodge

Now, go with me on this. Aldis Hodge (6’1.25″,b.1986) is generally known for playing humorous roles (e.g., on “Leverage”). But, he is a very good actor, and I’m sure he has done serious roles, too. (The only one I remember seeing was briefly in season 4 of “The Walking Dead”.) He might have to work extra hard to “sell” it as T’Challa, but I think he could do it. He already appears to be quite fit, but he would probably need to pack on a few sculpted pounds and work on a different voice/accent, etc. But, I would love to see/hear him do it!

 

King T'Chaka

King T’Chaka

While we’re here (heh, heh), I figured I’d throw a few names at you for the role of King T’Chaka. Now, I have no idea how old T’Chaka was when he was murdered. I don’t think he was very old, so he could have been anywhere from 20 to 40 years older than T’Challa. This would make him anywhere from mid-30s to late-50s. The actor wouldn’t need to be particularly physically fit, since he could be in ceremonial robes and/or a tailored suit for his scenes. But, I think he should be able to command respect and have a “presence” that befits a proud African king. Also, his height is less of an issue, but I’d prefer someone close to 6′. I considered several fine actors for this relatively small role, including Michael Jai White (b.1967), Wesley Snipes (b.1962), Eamonn Walker (b.1962), and T.C. Carson (b.1958). But, I finally settled on these three, two of whom are actually African-born:

 

 

Djimon Hounsou

Djimon Hounsou

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Hakeem Kae-Kazim

Hakeem Kae-Kazim

 

 

 

 

 

 

Djimon Hounsou (6’2″,b.1964) was born in Benin, West Africa, and is known for genre roles in Stargate, Amistad. Gladiator, Blood Diamond, Special Forces, and, of course, the recent Guardians of the Galaxy. What you might not know is that he was also the voice of T’Challa in the animated “Black Panther” TV mini-series. But, he’s 50 years old as of this writing, so too old to play the character in a live-action production. T’Chaka, on the other hand, would be perfect.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (6’2″,b.1967) was born in London, England, to Nigerian immigrants. He has a law degree and is fluent in several languages, including Yoruba and Swahili. He is perhaps best known for his roles in Congo, The Mummy Returns, “Oz”, and “Lost”, though he also appeared in The Bourne Identity, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, “Strike Back”, “Hunted”, Thor: The Dark World, and Pompeii. Adewale is an imposing figure, he has played Africans before, and he could definitely nail this role.

While he doesn’t have quite the height or build of the other two, Nigerian-born Hakeem Kae-Kazim (?,b.1962) has a deep, commanding voice and has played authoritative figures in the past. You might recognize him from season 7 of “24” (and the TV movie) or Hotel Rwanda or, maybe, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or appearances in “Strike Back”, “Gotham”, “Covert Affairs”, “Black Sails”, etc. He has done voice work for movies and video games, including “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”, “Final Fantasy XIV”, a couple editions of “Halo”, and… oh, yeah, he voiced T’Chaka in an episode of “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”.

Next week, I’ll post Part 2, where I try to fan-cast three of the Black Panther’s biggest, so-bad-you-love-to-hate-’em enemies….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2015.