Wesley Snipes Black Panther - Blade

In a couple of weeks, Black Panther will be hitting the big screen as the latest franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chadwick Boseman is playing the superhero, who was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, but his first big screen appearance almost happened over 25 years ago when DC Comics was dominating the superhero movie scene and leaving Marvel in the dust…and when Wesley Snipes was at the top of his game.

That’s right, the 1990s almost saw an adaptation of Black Panther that would have featured Wesley Snipes as a comic book character years before he became Marvel’s vampire hunter Blade. For the first time ever, Snipes recently opened up about the development of the project, who was on the shortlist to direct, and what drew him to the superhero in the first place.

Find out all about the Wesley Snipes Black Panther movie below.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Snipes talked about the appeal of Black Panther at a time when he could have made any movie he wanted following the success of hits like New Jack CityWhite Men Can’t JumpPassenger 57Rising Sun and Demolition Man. The actor said:

“I think Black Panther spoke to me because he was noble, and he was the antithesis of the stereotypes presented and portrayed about Africans, African history and the great kingdoms of Africa. It had cultural significance, social significance. It was something that the black community and the white community hadn’t seen before. Many people don’t know that there were fantastic, glorious periods of African empires and African royalty — Mansa Musa [emperor of the West African Mali Empire] and some of the wealthiest men in the world compared to the wealth of today. That was always very, very attractive. And I loved the idea of the advanced technology. I thought that was very forward thinking.”

25 years later, Black Panther still has plenty of cultural and social significance. It may not be quite as forward thinking as it would have been in the 1990s, but the impact that this superhero movie will have both culturally and at the box office will be a big deal. That’s something that Snipes recognized all those years ago, and he didn’t think audiences would have any problem connecting to the character:

“Black Panther is an iconic character who much of the world was unfamiliar with and the communities that I grew up in would love. Look, from the days of William Marshall playing Blacula in the 1970s black flicks and the fervor you found inside the black and Hispanic communities, it never crossed my mind that the audience wouldn’t be down with it.”

But one of the struggles they faced was explaining to the public who wasn’t familiar with Black Panther that this was a movie about a comic book superhero that wasn’t directly associated with the civil rights organization of the same name. Development moved forward though, with Columbia Pictures on board, and the hunt was on for a writer and director. And that’s where the movie got hung up.

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What Black Panther Could Have Been

The director options for this iteration of Black Panther were exactly what you would expect during the 1990s. New Jack City director Mario Van Peebles was on a shortlist, and Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton was also one of the options. It was the latter that ended up meeting with Snipes about the project, but they both had wildly different visions for the character.

Snipes explains that he was all about bringing the comic book character to life straight from the pages of Marvel Comics, “I laid on him my vision of the film being closer to what you see now: the whole world of Africa being a hidden, highly technically advanced society, cloaked by a force field, Vibranium.” But apparently Singleton had a much different idea in mind:

“John was like, ‘Nah! Hah! Hah! See, he’s got the spirit of the Black Panther, but he is trying to get his son to join the [civil rights activist] organization. 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.’ I am loosely paraphrasing our conversation. But ultimately, John wanted to take the character and put him in the civil rights movement. And I’m like, ‘Dude! Where’s the toys?! They are highly technically advanced, and it will be fantastic to see Africa in this light opposed to how Africa is typically portrayed.’ I wanted to see the glory and the beautiful Africa. The jewel Africa.”

Obviously, it’s a blessing in disguise that John Singleton didn’t end up involved with the project, and Snipes couldn’t agree more: “Thank God. I love John, but I am so glad we didn’t go down that road, because that would have been the wrong thing to do with such a rich project.”

But even if the project did move forward, this version of Black Panther wouldn’t have looked quite as high tech or sophisticated as the version Marvel Studios is putting together today. Snipes described what the costume likely would have been like if the project came together, and while there might be some elegance in its simplicity, it doesn’t quite measure up to the suit Chadwick Boseman wears. Snipes said:

“Actually, I figured it would be a leotard. A leotard with maybe some little cat ears on it. I would have to be in shape and just be straight bodied up. I never imagined anything more than a leotard at the time, which I didn’t have a problem with because I started out as a dancer.”

Even if the costume wasn’t perfect, it sounds like there was at least one idea that may have been satisfying for fans. Marvel editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco listened to a bunch of pitches for Marvel movies during his tenure from 1987 to 1994, and he recalls hearing a great pitch for Black Panther from screenwriter Terry Hayes.

The story began with a battle in Wakanda and a baby T’Challa surviving by being placed in a basket on a river, which is a familiar origin story we’ve seen before. Then the story flashed forward to him as a grown man with a normal life, until he ends up being attacked on an elevator. After a big action sequence featuring “an elaborately choreographed fight,” his journey toward becoming the Black Panther would begin. DeFalco says, “I just remember as the writer was describing the scene, I could see it in my mind.”

Unfortunately, the project never came together. As Snipes explains, “Ultimately, we couldn’t find the right combination of script and director and, also at the time, we were so far ahead of the game in the thinking, the technology wasn’t there to do what they had already created in the comic book.”

In the end, perhaps it’s better that Black Panther was brought to life in today’s world with the visual effects technology we have at our disposal to bring both Wakanda and the superhero to life in a way that is loyal to the comics and satisfying to fans. While it might have been cool to have Wesley Snipes in the role, it’s hard to imagine anyone except Chadwick Boseman playing the part now.

Marvel’s Black Panther arrives in theaters on February 16, 2018.

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