While we were busy buzzing about Marvel’s big Black Panther debut last night, an interesting story came out. Before he went on to make Blade, Wesley Snipes campaigned long and hard to get the ball rolling on a live-action Black Panther adaptation in which he would have starred. Though the project never quite came to fruition, Snipes’ description of that ‘90s Black Panther film is a fascinating taste of what might have been.
Snipes spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about how his own Black Panther project actually got much farther along in the production process than most people realize (if they knew about it at all). Multiple scripts were written, Snipes himself (who was a hot commodity throughout the early-to-mid ‘90s) was attached to star, and both Mario Van Peebles and John Singleton were in the running to direct.
But for all the potential Snipes’ Panther might have had, comic books and movies based on them didn’t have the same kind of cultural cache and relevance that they do today and not everyone was on board with the idea of sticking close to the source material. Though Snipes felt it was important to emphasize Wakanda’s technological prowess—something we’ll definitely be seeing in Marvel’s film—others, like Singleton, thought it would be smarter to go in a different direction:
“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.”
Snipes also described a number of other angles for the film that would have focused on a version of T’Challa who didn’t grow up in Wakanda in the years before he became king. As odd as that may sound, bear in mind that the ‘90s were a very, very different time for Marvel and Black Panther. At the time, Marvel had recently sold off the film rights to a number of its characters in an attempt to stave off its impending bankruptcy.
Even though Columbia Pictures was interested in potentially producing Snipes’ Black Panther, technological and budgetary constraints proved to be insurmountable issues. CGI wasn’t anything close to what it’s like today and capturing the sheer grandeur of Wakanda would have called for a gargantuan budget. It’s nice to think that there was almost an OG Black Panther film that we could have been looking back on with fondness (or derision, who knows) for years, but to hear the way Snipes describes his vision for T’Challa’s vibranium suit, perhaps it’s best the movie never got made:
“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.”