Wesley Snipes and the ‘Black Panther’ That Might Have Been

Wesley Snipes was in script development on Black Panther in 1992. Sometimes things fall apart, but oh my, what could have been!
Wesley Snipes Blade Ii
By  · Published on February 19th, 2018

We love speculating about the comic movies that could have been. It’s great fun when filmmakers get in on that action by sharing the details of some of their projects that never quite took off. For example, Nicolas Cage and the tale of Superman Lives is so fascinating that they turned it into a documentary. Recently, Wesley Snipes gave a couple of interviews with The Hollywood Reporter and Variety on the Black Panther movie he tried to bring to life in 1992. And, well. The technical term is, I believe, holy shit. It would have been wild.

From Snipes’ perspective, the biggest selling point of Black Panther was the same as what Ryan Coogler realized in his massive box office success this past weekend. Representation, with heart and character. Snipes wanted to make something that would appeal cross-culturally, but feature African culture, history, and wonder.

Snipes’ school studies were largely based on acting, but his minor was in African diaspora studies. So, when he was reading “Black Panther” comics and planning the script idea, he had visions of ancient cultures. African cultures. He was hooked on the idea of seeing African culture enmeshed with technological achievements. He wanted something that would refute the stereotypes still pervasive today.

That’s exactly the vibe Coogler went all in on. We’re big fans of Black Panther and it’s social value. But, if you’re wondering what Snipes was getting at, check out this amazing Twitter thread detailing many of the cultures represented in the film.

Black Panther really did become a beautiful blend of technology and culture.

Would that have been the version we got in 1992? They were going through similar approaches of looking for up-and-coming black directors to take on the helm. Snipes shared that he met with John Singleton (Boys n the Hood) and that their visions didn’t quite match up. Singleton wanted to set the film in America. T’Challa would have the spirit of the Black Panther but the crux of the story would rest on his son wanting to join the civil rights group the Black Panthers.

Aside from being set in America, Singleton’s core conflict was effectively the same as what came to be in Coogler’s film. Granted, it wasn’t set in America. But, it explored that same debate of how to improve the world around us. Violence or politics? Are they that different? This is also the same theme Spike Lee explored in Do The Right Thing. 

It’s interesting that a lot of these thematic ideas are so persistent that what would have been relevant in 1992 is just as relevant and essential in 2018.  But, let’s discuss some of the practical challenges to making a superhero movie in 1992.

Let’s talk costumes for a second. You know the only truly great superhero costume by the early 90s was Superman’s. Snipes shared he would have been straight up in a leotard with cat ears. He said that jokingly, but that seems pretty close. Production was never far enough along to debate it, but I would guess it would have been a cape-less Batman costume. With mother fucking cat ears.

Snipes’ film would have also featured various African martial arts. That’s something the world is missing. On-screen fighting these days has become more the blended approach of what works and MMA. Oh, and Superman Punches. Coogler’s version gave us some great work with traditional weapons and shields updated with Vibranium technology. But, gosh, I would have loved to have seen some of those authentic fighting styles displayed.

Snipes’ big takeaway is that the superhero film just wasn’t ready in 1992. They had no templates. No platforms. There was not yet a shared language of superhero movies to rely on when trying to showcase Wakanda and the beauty of African culture. The last Marvel movie prior to their development meetings in 1992 was Albert Pyun’s Captain America. You know, the one starring Matt Salinger as Cap. And had rubber ears on his suit because they didn’t have the budget to get the costume right. On the DC side of the spectrum, Tim Burton was making Batman films in his wildly gothic signature style.

On the positive side, the failed development of his Black Panther gave us Blade. And, no doubt, that’s the movie that starts Marvel’s rise. If 1998’s Blade doesn’t happen, we don’t get to see X-Men and Spider-Man. Without those, we don’t get Iron Man. Snipes’ Black Panther may not have happened, but he did create a space for the development of the MCU with the success of the Blade films. Does that missed opportunity ever bum him out? No, he says. “It’s good to be ahead of the game and being alive long enough to see its fruition.”

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Writer for Film School Rejects. He currently lives in Virginia, where he is very proud of his three kids, wife, and projector. Co-Dork on the In The Mouth of Dorkness podcast.