a 'black panther' film was almost made in the 90s, starring wesley snipes
Spearheading the project, Wesley was more than ready to wear a cat-eared leotard.
The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images and Flickr Creative Commons
The afrofuturistic Black Panther will finally get the proper cinematic debut he deserves next month, with Ryan Coogler ( Creed, Fruitvale Station) directing the high-budget film. However, a Black Panther film was very close to getting created in the 90s, Wesley Snipes revealed to The Hollywood Reporter. Wesley, hoping to the play the title role, was aiming to highlight the lesser-seen, wealth-filled history of Africa. "I think Black Panther spoke to me because he was noble,” Wesley explained, speaking at length about his serious efforts to create the film. “He was the antithesis of the stereotypes presented and portrayed about Africans, African history, and the great kingdoms of Africa… It was something that the black community and the white community hadn’t seen before."
Wesley faced continual ignorance and misunderstanding from studio execs as he tried to launch the project off the ground. It was often assumed that he wanted to make a movie about the 1960s civil rights group, Black Panther Party. "They think you want to come out with a black beret and clothing and then there’s a movie," Wesley said. It also appears that Wesley’s vision was too grand for the CGI technology available at the time. Remember, this is when the clunky CGI water effects in Busta Rhymes and Janet Jackson’s “What’s It Gonna Be” video were widely seen as cutting edge.
Much like Ryan Coogler, execs were looking to bring on a “young, up-and-coming” black director. One strong potential was John Singleton, director of the 1991 black classic Boyz n the Hood. Wesley imagined the film would be set in a hidden, futuristic Africa, while John wanted to the film to take place in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. Wesley recounted John’s vision to The Hollywood Reporter: "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.'"
Perhaps one of the hardest things to imagine is Wesley donning the Black Panther’s costume. Wesley admits he envisioned it being a simple black leotard with “cat ears” and was prepared to “just be straight bodied up” for the look. Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately, depending on how you look at things — the project fell through. So Wesley shifted his focus and succeeded in getting Marvel to create a film about Blade, a black vampire. The film was the first highly successful film for Marvel. Wesley says he believes Blade is responsible for the film empire Marvel has today. And in case you’re wondering: yes, Wesley is 100% down for a Blade 4.