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“Black Panther,” Director Diversity and What Happens Next

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
“Black Panther,” Director Diversity and What Happens Next

On December 4, various outlets reported that “Creed” director and co-writer Ryan Coogler was in discussions to direct Marvel Studios’ upcoming “Black Panther” film.

This comes as no surprise, in light of the successful Thanksgiving weekend premiere of “Creed,” earning over 42 million dollars and ranking as the tenth-biggest Thanksgiving debut of all time.

Coogler’s accomplishments with “Creed” and 2013’s critically-acclaimed film “Fruitvale Station” clearly established his ability, style and vision.

In various interviews, Coogler has discussed the importance of “Black Panther,” the story of an African ruler (and future Avenger, if the movies follow the comic books), being helmed by a Black director.

Coogler made a clear argument for this by citing legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese and his influential films as an example of how shared experience between director and character yields stories that have authenticity.

While waiting for the results of the negotiations between Marvel Studios and Coogler, social media has captured a variety of opinions from the fans.

Elation and approval for Coogler to direct the film.

Concern over whether doing “Black Panther” will help Coogler’s career but hurt him as a filmmaker because Marvel will exert too much control over his directorial vision.

Relief that another Black director has been given a shot at “Black Panther.”

All of those positions loop back to the discussions earlier this year when “Selma” director Ava DuVernay was in talks with Marvel Studios to helm “Black Panther.”

RELATED: Why “Selma” Director Ava DuVernay Passed On Marvel’s “Black Panther”

What seemed to start as speculation, forced rumor, and fan desire became a truth, and the two parties were in discussion.
The website for “Vanity Fair” went so far as to strongly imply the appointment of DuVernay on the upcoming Marvel film with the headline “Marvel Reportedly Hires Ava DuVernay to Direct Black Panther Movie.”

Despite the hopes and reports and speculation and discussion, it didn’t happen.

What did happen was a backlash of hopes dashed, and frustration, and questions, and more speculation.

DuVernay put a bit of that to rest when she revealed, in various interviews, that she realized “Black Panther” was not going to be a film she could call hers, and despite its potential impact, would require an extraordinary amount of time.

Time she ended up devoting to making impact in another way.

Five years ago, DuVernay founded The African American Film Festival Releasing Movement, a distribution collective designed to put movies reflecting diversity in story and creator in front of audiences.

After turning down “Black Panther,” DuVernay rebranded the company as “Array,” and broadened the scope of the company to help more groups of filmmakers, and women filmmakers to a significant degree.

It’s arguable that within the next decade, Array will make more of an impact for more people than a “Black Panther” film.

Now, history repeats itself, while more outlets report the Coogler/Marvel Studios discussion, and we build toward the climax of the answer.

If Ryan Coogler does become the director of “Black Panther,” it will be history in the making, and a sign that the story of how Prince T’Challa becomes The Black Panther will have teeth to it, heart, and resonate with people in a unique way informed by some shared experience.

But if it doesn’t happen, we should be prepared for that.

Either way, Marvel Studios is well aware of the importance of Black Panther as a character and as a film.

They see that Marvel Comics has brought on critically-acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates to write the comic book series.

They recruited Cheo Hodari Coker to be the Executive Producer and showrunner for “Luke Cage,” the upcoming Netflix series about the Black male superhero who is just as popular and relevant as Black Panther.

Marvel Studios is showing a commitment to spotlighting Black heroes and finding talented Black people to be the caretakers of their stories.

Whether by a corporate ethic or business strategy, it is apparent that Marvel Studios is choosing the road of shared experience with the “Black Panther” film.

If Coogler becomes the director of “Black Panther,” it’ll be good news. If he chooses not to take on the tale of the African superhero…

…then I can’t wait to see what story he’ll tell next.

There is life after saying “no” to Marvel.


Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by The New York Times, CNN Money, the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, The School of Visual Arts, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.

Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels and web-based entertainment.

His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.

Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.

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