Wesley Snipes entered a new phase of his career when he helped bring Marvel’s Blade to the big screen, but as he tells The Hollywood Reporter, he originally had his eyes on the throne of Wakanda.
After a series of hit films that showed off his comedy and action chops, Snipes was in a position to call his own shots, which included making a Black Panther movie. “Black Panther is an iconic character who much of the world was unfamiliar with and the communities that I grew up in would love,” Snipes says. “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.”
At first, studios thought the actor-producer wanted to make a film about the Black Panther Party, but though a potential director would later try to sell him on a period piece about the civil rights movement, Snipes says he wanted to highlight the majesty of Africa. “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,” Snipes says. “It had cultural significance, social significance. It was something that the black community and the white community hadn’t seen before.”
Noting that roles for black actors were limited, both in availability and their scope, Snipes says a Black Panther adaptation would have pulled the curtain back on African history. “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,” Snipes tells the publication. “That was always very, very attractive. And I loved the idea of the advanced technology. I thought that was very forward thinking.”
Snipes faced an uphill battle, though, as Marvel was struggling financially at the time, and being throughly beaten at the box office by DC Comics’ film adaptations (how times have changed). But former Marvel EIC Tom DeFalco was excited about the idea, especially after hearing screenwriter Terry Hayes’ pitch for the film. Of course, that was only after a long search for a writer and director, the latter of which proved more difficult. Apparently, both Mario Van Peebles and John Singleton were considered. Snipes never met with Van Peebles; meanwhile, Singleton’s vision would have seen T’Challa transported to the U.S. and dropped in the middle of the fight for civil rights.
As much as Snipes respects Singleton, he didn’t think it was the right idea for the film. Eventually, the search for a helmer and scribe petered out, and Snipes moved on to star in 1998's Blade. “It was a natural progression and a readjustment,” the actor says of the role, which he reprised in two sequels. “They both [Black Panther and Blade] had nobility. They both were fighters. So I thought, hey, we can’t do the King of Wakanda and the Vibranium and the hidden kingdom in Africa, let’s do a black vampire.”
20-odd years later, the first standalone Black Panther movie is set to debut on February 16, with Chadwick Boseman in the lead role.