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How Tenet Made History And You Didn't Even Know

Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" was released in 2020 — one of the few films to be released to theaters during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Although the film initially underperformed at the box office, both fans of Nolan and many film critics found much to love in the genre-bending film's complicated "time inversion" plot. 

Viewers weren't the only ones confused by Nolan's latest sci-fi novum. Lead actors John David Washington and Robert Pattinson both admitted having to ask the director to clarify plot points during production. Pattinson told Esquire, "There were months at a time where  ... I actually, honestly, have no idea if I'm even vaguely understanding what's happening." Washington, meanwhile, joked in an interview that Nolan had been "very nice" whenever he needed to ask for plot clarification. 

Beyond being another cerebral achievement for the director of "Inception," "Tenet" was notable for its practical stunts and lavish production, which reportedly took the cast and crew to seven different countries (via Men's Journal). All of that is impressive, but "Tenet" isn't the first confusing science-fiction story, nor is it the genre's only jet-setting production. 

The film did make history in another way, though.

Actor John David Washington made history in Tenet

John David Washington did more than bring his acting prowess to "Tenet"; his role as "protagonist" (that's literally his credit) opened the door for the film to make Hollywood history. 

The sci-fi epic's budget was a reported $200 million, making it the most expensive original film to date to feature a Black lead actor. Marvel fans might immediately bring up "Black Panther," which had a similarly sized budget. The difference lies in the fact that Nolan's "Tenet" is an original screenplay, while "Black Panther" is based on the 1966 comic book hero created by Stan Lee. It's a fine distinction, but an important one in light of the elevated risk profile of a project that isn't rooted in a proven IP. 

Son of actor Denzel Washington, John David has also appeared as the lead in previous films "Monsters and Men" and the Academy Award-winning Spike Lee joint, "BlacKkKlansman." Moreover, Washington made history twice in one year with the debut of Netflix's "Malcolm & Marie," one of the first movies to be written and completed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nolan's next project is still under wraps, although there is the perpetual rumor that his 2000 psychological thriller "Memento" will be re-booted — the potential remake sits atop his IMDb as "announced" — but for now we'll have to settle for rewatching the original and continuing to whiteboard the plot of "Tenet" until time inversion makes sense.