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Wesley Snipes Talks The 90s Black Panther Movie That Never Was

Audiences are on fire anticipating the imminent arrival of Black Panther, the stunning-looking 18th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In another world that almost was, however, we would've already gotten the land of Wakanda on screen decades ago, pre-dating the MCU with Blade's Wesley Snipes in the role of T'Challa, the Wakandan King.

Snipes broke down the version of the movie he was pushing to get made in the mid-90s in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, and it's a fascinating look at how the movie industry viewed comic book properties prior to Marvel's perfecting of the formula with their Phase One series of Avengers movies. 

While producers were interested in making the property into a movie, they wanted to change quite a bit in the adaptation, and Snipes appears to have been the only one who saw the potential in a movie that really leaned into the wonderful, comic book weirdness of Wakanda.

"Many people don't know that there were fantastic, glorious periods of African empires and African royalty — Mansa Musa and some of the wealthiest men in the world compared to the wealth of today," Snipes said, explaining his attraction to the project. "That was always very, very attractive. And I loved the idea of the advanced technology. I thought that was very forward thinking."

Many of the producers Snipes spoke to didn't realize the potential of Panther as written, and wanted to lean instead into the beret-wearing iconography of the revolutionary Black Panther party, which was thought of as being more familiar to audiences at the time.

"They think you want to come out with a black beret and clothing and then there's a movie," Snipes said. The actor, however, says he knew there was an audience that wanted to see the comic book character brought to life in full glory, no matter how out-there the subject matter may have sounded at the time.

"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 said. "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." 

According to Snipes, the project went through three different scripts and two different directors before falling apart, including New Jack City director Mario Van Peebles and Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton. Snipes said that no one's vision for the movie ever quite matched up to the fantastical ideal laid out in the comic books.

"I laid on him my vision of the film being closer to what you see now: the whole world of Africa being a hidden, highly technically advanced society, cloaked by a force field, Vibranium," Snipes said. "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 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.'"

"Ultimately, John wanted to take the character and put him in the civil rights movement," Snipes continued. "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."

Despite the disappointment at the time, Snipes says he's happy that he and his creative partners did not pursue a compromised vision of Black Panther, saying "that would have been the wrong thing to do with such a rich project."

The inability of the movie's creative team to agree on a vision for the property, combined with the lack of technology to fully realize the proto-future world of Wakanda, ended up with the project petering out. Snipes did not take the setback as a reason to shy away from comics, however — instead, he went on to make Blade in 1998, bringing a different Marvel Comics hero to the mainstream and unwittingly laying the groundwork for what would one day become the MCU.

As for Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther, Snipes says he's happy the movie is being made with the original vision of the comic books intact — even if it doesn't get to be him inside the suit.

"Even though I am not a part of this particular project, I support it 1,000 percent, and I am absolutely convinced that it will be a catalyst for change and open other doors and other opportunities," he said. "And we need that kind of diversity and different flavor now. [Chadwick] is a young, talented actor, and I think he is going to make it his own. I hope they give him a great opportunity to really come into the fullness of the character."

Black Panther rises on February 16.