Ava DuVernay, Black Panther and Marvel’s Certain Way

By  · Published on July 3rd, 2015

Paramount Pictures

In a moment of unusual transparency, especially where a Marvel movie is concerned, Selma director Ava DuVernay has detailed in an interview with Essence Magazine published today the fact that not only did she speak with Marvel about directing its upcoming film Black Panther, but that she ultimately said no.

Here’s the full quote from Essence:

“I’m not signing on to direct Black Panther,” she added. “I think I’ll just say we had different ideas about what the story would be. Marvel has a certain way of doing things and I think they’re fantastic and a lot of people love what they do. I loved that they reached out to me.”

“I loved meeting Chadwick [Boseman] and writers and all the Marvel execs,” said DuVernay. “In the end, it comes down to story and perspective. And we just didn’t see eye to eye. Better for me to realize that now than cite creative differences later.”

This will undoubtedly be a disappointment for fans of Black Panther, who was the first black superhero created by Marvel Comics. It’s not even a matter of a black director (and a strong female voice) turning down a chance to make a high-profile tentpole movie. The simplest reason for disappointment is that DuVernay is an exceptionally talented filmmaker. Her talents amplified with a big budget production is something I want to see. Though there’s no doubt that such an opportunity will present itself again in the future for DuVernay.

The other thing that’s evident ‐ and it’s been evident for a while ‐ is that Marvel’s “certain way of doing things” is less of a “director as author” system and more of a team driven affair. Marvel has, in recent years, been a studio that exerts a lot of control over its properties. In the beginning, the free-wheeling days when Marvel Studios was getting going with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Thor, the individual directors were giving a little more reign. With recent projects, including the soon to be released Ant Man, productions have been more troubled than expected from the initially utopian Marvel creative bubble. Edgar Wright had an Ant-Man movie that Marvel loved, until they didn’t. Instead they hired Peyton Reed, who is a perfectly capable filmmaker, but I’d be lying to myself and to all of you if I didn’t say that it felt like they’d found a “yes man” for Marvel execs.

Joss Whedon also made mention of a lot of studio involvement during his very open and honest Avengers: Age of Ultron press tour. It nearly broke him.

This is the new Marvel way. And I wouldn’t dare to put words into Ms. DuVernay’s mouth, but perhaps this is the certain way to which she is referring. It’s not entirely a bad thing. And DuVernay is exactly right to avoid putting herself in an uncomfortable position on a high-profile project. For Marvel, this is also undoubtedly part of the problem when you’re making a highly connected, ever-sprawling cinematic universe. But it comes at a cost. You run the risk, as a studio that considers itself an innovator, of losing out on originality of vision and unique voices behind the camera.

As Marvel gets ready to open its first film with a troubled production in two weeks, it will be interesting to see if there’s a degradation in the quality of their films as their creativity continues to be centralized around its executive team.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the upcoming One Perfect Shot TV show (HBO Max, 2021) and the co-host of The Storm: A LOST Rewatch podcast. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)