Black Panther has been one of the most iconic, socially relevant, and politically-charged characters in Marvel’s superhero pantheon. Created in 1966, during the height of the decade’s civil rights movement (and the beginning of the Black Power movement), Black Panther—along with characters like the Falcon, Storm, DC Comic’s Cyborg and others—gave black comic fans a greater sense of belonging in the Marvel family.
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So why has it taken so long for Marvel to make a Black Panther movie? An even better question—why did Marvel decide Ant-Man, probably the most obscure Marvel movie yet, was more important to Marvel Studios’ Phase 2 than Black Panther, the leader of a country housing the world’s largest store of Vibranium, the material needed to make Captain America’s shield?
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Many fans have questioned Marvel’s ranking system when it comes to which characters get their own films. The ‘90s saw tons of discussion about a possible Black Panther film with Wesley Snipes as the titular character. But during the 2000s, when Marvel Studios’ film production became what it is today, many fans began to feel like Marvel was suspiciously avoiding a Black Panther film for no reason other than it would center around a black character. Even though the Falcon, James “Rhodey” Rhodes and Nick Fury are in the films, they are all secondary characters. Having a Marvel film headlined by a black character would end the current all-white boys club that Marvel Studios created during the first phase of their movie initiative. Just like the character himself, a Black Panther film would be inherently political only because it’s different from what’s considered “the norm.”
Because of large amounts of indecision and a little bit of feet shuffling, it took tons of fan reaction, petitioning, celebrity input, and even Stan Lee himself to get Marvel to finally promise a Black Panther film. Here’s a quick timeline of Marvel’s stumbling path towards the announcement of a Black Panther film. Just like with comic book chronology, the timeline will be broken up into separate eras.
Wesley Snipes reveals his interest in making a Black Panther film in 1992. By 1994, the Snipes version of Black Panther seems to be moving along, so much so that the film was in development at Columbia Pictures. But in 1996, Marvel’s patriarch, Stan Lee, isn’t pleased with the scripts he’s read. In 1997, Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti are hired to work on adapting the Black Panther film and later that year, the film seems to be chief on Marvel’s movie development to-do list until August, when work on the project is halted again.
Throughout the stops and starts, Snipes is still believed to star as Black Panther. But by 2002, Snipes states that he’s either going to play Blade again in Blade 3 or finally don the catsuit as Black Panther. As it would turn out, Snipes goes on to play Blade again, and by this time, 2004, Snipes is more or less out as the man for Black Panther, even though Snipes still shows interest in playing the character in 2006.
By 2007, Feige lists Black Panther on his development slate, with John Singleton courted to direct. By 2009, writers are hired to develop the feature film, and by 2011, a script by documentarian Mark Bailey is finished. Speculation would suggest that the script wasn’t especially lauded, since no other mention of any script or development work in general occurs until 2013.
Between the Mark Bailey script and the actual announcement of Black Panther finally being made, Marvel co-president Louis D’Esposito bandies about the idea that Black Panther could show up in one of Marvel’s One-Shots (the film equivalents to “one-shot” comic books featuring characters in a short, stand-alone story). But, as the fans already knew, putting Black Panther in just one short film would be way too difficult and would be a disservice to a character with such a rich background and history.
At this point, fan expectation is steadily growing to a fever pitch, with outlet after outlet writing articles nominating actors such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Oyelowo, Anthony Mackie (who wasn’t cast as the Falcon yet), and John Boyega for the role. Many fans who were growing weary of constant “in development” talk created petitions demanding that the Black Panther finally make it to the big screen.
Fan expectation turned into frustration when D’Esposito gave his half-baked reasoning as to why Black Panther film development was slower than other Marvel films. D’Esposito stated during a 2012 Comic-Con MTV interview that Black Panther’s home, the fictional African country of Wakanda, would be too tough to create. “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]. It’s always easier basing it here,” he said. “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.” It seemed like D’Esposito forgot about how easily Marvel Studios created the fictional godly realm of Asgard, Thor’s homeworld, for film.
Feige didn’t make things better when he said to BlackTree TV during a 2013 interview promoting Thor 2: The Dark World that even though a Black Panther film was in development, it would be brought to the screen at some point, since Vibranium was already a part of the Marvel film universe. “…I don’t know when it will be exactly, but we certainly have plans to bring him to life some day.” As to when that day would come seemed murky at best. At worst, it seemed like a fool’s errand to hope. Still, Black Panther casting rumors still circled, with the character being linked to Morris Chestnut in 2013 and Michael K. Williams, John Boyega and Chadwick Boseman in 2014.
Stan Lee Era
Of course, the seeming lack of movement and the bumbling statements from Marvel led to tons of fans crying foul and creating even more petitions. Frustration turned to anger and resentment until Stan Lee, seemingly without any oversight from the higher-ups at Marvel, stated his empathic support for a Black Panther movie.
During 2014’s Fan Expo Canada, Lee said that both Black Panther and Black Widow would get their stand-alone films in the near future. “The chances are [Black Widow] will have her own movie because eventually all the superheroes are going to have their own movies,” he said. “They are already working on Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and the Black Panther, and there are others I am not allowed to talk about.” We’ve seen that Ant-Man is almost in theaters and Doctor Strange is fast in development, but from my point of view, it seemed like Lee forced Marvel’s hand when it came to Black Panther and Black Widow. Lee’s admission of a Black Panther film coming, despite any knowledge of what Marvel Studios’ schedule actually was, seems evident during his attendance at Salt Lake Comic-Con that same year. In response to a question concerning the release of Black Panther, he said, “Oh, I wish I knew. I love the Black Panther. I know that they’re figuring out how to do the movie. I don’t think it’s scheduled yet, but be patient, because sooner or later the Black Panther will strike.”
It would seem that Lee forcing Marvel’s hand put Marvel Studios in to high gear to deliver on Lee’s promises to the public. Even though the film was still on the development slate in 2013, Black Panther is officially announced as one of the upcoming movies in Marvel Studios’ Phase 3, with Chadwick Boseman cast as the titular character. Black Panther is also listed as making his film debut in 2016’s Captain America 3: Civil War, during which Captain America, the Falcon, and other characters will travel to Wakanda. It’s worth noting that this year’s The Avengers: Age of Ulton featured the first official mention of Wakanda in the Marvel films, as well as a fight taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa.
When it’s all said and done, it’s great that Black Panther will soon be in theaters, shaking up the status quo once again. The Black Panther will strike, to use Lee’s terminology, on July 6, 2018 after being moved from a 2017 release.
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Hopefully, Marvel will see fit to continue creating films for its superheroes who are non-white and/or non-male. But if not, then perhaps we can hope for Lee to make another statement at a convention.