Now that we know fan favorite Ava DuVernay will definitely not be directing Marvel’s Black Panther movie, let’s give the studio some other names to consider. Not that Kevin Feige, Marvel chief, is an S&A reader, but, there’s always a chance that someone within the company (maybe an employee assigned to monitor and survey social media sites and blogs) will find out about this post… or not.
At worst, you’ll be indulging me.
First, I’m excluding all the usual names that come up when these kinds of conversations are had: so that means, no Antoine Fuqua; no F. Gary Gray; no Tim Story; no Hughes Brothers, etc, etc, etc. I don’t want the popular choices. I want names of filmmakers, with credits (shorts and/or features), who you believe could (because, let’s face it, nothing is certain) give us a Black Panther movie that we can all cheer (most of us anyway; you can’t please everyone after all).
Consider the names of all the upstart white filmmakers who’ve been assigned to direct various past/present superhero movies: Marc Webb wasn’t exactly a household name when he was tapped to direct the last pair of Spider-Man movies. His only feature before that was the offbeat rom-com, "(500) Days of Summer;" Peyton Reed, director of the upcoming Ant-Man movie was previously primarily a TV director before getting his first superhero gig – a director that, again, the average moviegoer likely had never heard of before then; and then there’s Jon Watts who I, frankly, had never of (as much I keep up with industry names and faces), who is now attached to take over the needless (in my humble opinion) Spider-Man franchise reboot. His resume includes a thriller titled "Cop Car" starring Kevin Bacon, which will be out next month. Before that, he’d directed TV as well – episodes of "The Onion News Network." Of course there’s Josh Trank, who directed the sleeper low budget super hero origins movie, "Chronicle," who was then hired to direct the upcoming "Fantastic Four" reboot. And before the Russo brothers (Joe and Anthony) were handed the Captain America franchise, their claim to fame was 2006’s comedy "You, Me and Dupree" and episodes of TV comedy series like "Community" and "Arrested Development" (nothing at all that would make one feel assured that the pair were ready to helm a mega-budgeted, special effects heavy superhero movie).
There has always been a constant influx of new (usually) white directing talent introduced into the Hollywood studio system as we know it. Typically we (all races, ethnicities, skin colors) start out in pretty much the same way – a short film or feature that gets into a major film festival, maybe is picked up for distribution, or gets the attention of someone who wields power in the industry; or a short film that gets you signed to an agent at a top agency; or a short that goes viral and a studio picks it up and gives you money to turn it into a feature, etc, etc, etc. There are a few different paths that I’ve seen work for many, for as long as I’ve been running this blog. But something happens along the way when it comes to directors of color. The opportunities just don’t seem to come as readily as they do for white filmmakers. Why that is, is a discussion for another post. I mention all this to make my obvious point here, which is to, again, emphasize the need for an ushering in of a new set of young black filmmakers – fresh talent, new voices – who’ve demonstrated creativity, and flexibility; Or even older black filmmakers who’ve been toiling away for years, in near obscurity, who maybe the press and fans have essentially forgotten, and who deserve (based on past work) a shot at something of this magnitude.
Who are those people?
In my case, I had to think of filmmakers whose past or current work has gotten me excited about what’s to come from each; but also work that I think provides Marvel with enough of a resume that says, "we’d like to see what this kid [or veteran] could do with Black Panther."
I’ll give you 4 names – an upstart without much experience; another relative upstart with a feature to his credit, and who already has the right kind of approval from the right people; an experienced pro but without a feature film credit; and a seasoned veteran who doesn’t get the kind of attention he deserves, but who just might be the complete package for this project. I’ll also throw in a long-shot at the end.
After some thought while ransacking the S&A archives, the first name that I came up with is British architect turned filmmaker Kibwe Tavares, who has wowed us with 2 strong short films – "Robots of Brixton" (his take on the early 1980s Brixton Race Riots) and "Jonah" (a story about a giant jumping fish in Zanzibar used to address the impact of tourism there) – both films were featured on this blog. He combines his professional skills as an architect, with his love of storytelling and CGI, to create live-action futuristic films, with social and political depth, creating incredibly detailed, vivid, and kinetic visual environments. Both of his shorts have been viral successes, winning awards at film festivals around the world; most recently, "Jonah" won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. No, he doesn’t have a feature film to his credit, but it’s tough not to consider him a more than capable, creative and talented artist, with a socio-politically conscious drive that I think would be necessary for any filmmaker hired to direct a movie based on Black Panther. But his lack of feature film experience could be a strike against him – at least, from Marvel’s POV. I still believe he’s worth, at least, flying in for a meeting with the studio, and getting into his head to find out what he might be able to do with Black Panther. Of course, I’m assuming he’d even be interested in the challenge.
Second, J.J. Abrams, as well as Universal Pictures chiefs, must have seen something in Julius Onah to bring him onboard as director of 2 rather heavy weight projects that are really nothing like his past work (work that I have seen), based on what we currently know of them. In 2013, Onah was tapped by Paramount and J.J. Abrams, to direct the sci-fi thriller "God Particle," from a script that was penned by Oren Uziel, with Abrams supervising. The script, which was said to have been one of Hollywood’s most buzzed-about "open directing assignments" (partly because there had been lots of secrecy around it, and J.J. Abrams had been attached to produce), follows an American space station crew that’s abandoned after a problem with a Hadron accelerator causes Earth to completely vanish. And then last year, it was announced that Onah had been tapped by another major studio in Universal Pictures, to direct an adaptation of Marcus Sakey’s novel "Brilliance," which David Koepp is scripting, and, at one time, Will Smith was attached to star in. The story follows several different people – called "Brilliants" – who possess special superhero-like abilities. The synopsis reads almost like a more grounded X-Men spin-off. I recall Deadline said that the project had "tent-pole potential." Onah’s attachment to both projects was certainly a pleasant surprise to me, because, again, of the work of his that I’d seen (primarily socially-conscious dramas), nothing prepared me for either announcement. Although his only feature, "The Girl Is in Trouble" (exec produced by Spike Lee) is more of a crime drama. There aren’t exactly a ton of young, relatively unknown black directors being hired to helm potential Hollywood studio "high-concept" tent-pole movies – let alone 2 of them. So, even though his past work may not indicate that he’s "the guy" for Black Panther, the facts I just laid out on what currently lies ahead for him, suggest that there’s definitely studio (and J.J. Abrams) confidence in his abilities to shepherd large scale, sci-fi feature films. The Nigerian-born filmmaker also has an MFA in film from NYU, like the next filmmaker on this list (Seith Mann). His short film, "The Boundary," which starred Alexander Siddig ("Syriana," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") was designated by Amnesty International as one of its “Movies That Matter,“ and was acquired by HBO.
A third name that I’d consider for Black Panther (mentioned in Sergio’s post confirming that Ava DuVernay would not be directing the project for Marvel), is Seith Mann. The guy’s been around for over a decade, but because he’s been relegated to directing primarily for television, his name never really gets lumped in with all the other experienced, talented black feature filmmakers. But Seith, despite a resume that’s full of mostly dramas, should be on Marvel’s short list of filmmakers to talk to. I think there’s a confidence and assuredness in his work that comes through. His excellent short film, which was his NYU thesis project, "Five Deep Breaths" (made in 2003), helped get him industry attention – a film that played numerous film festivals all over the world, and won a few awards for the filmmaker. Since then, he’s directed episodes of TV shows like "Grey’s Anatomy," "The Wire," "Nurse Jackie," "Elementary," "Heroes" and "The Walking Dead," to name a few – an eclectic mix of shows that I think could work in his favor. But really, in terms of just raw talent, sheer will, and experience, I think he’s worth a look. He’ll be joining the likes of Peyton Reed and the Russo brothers – former TV directors who Marvel handed superhero franchises over to. What was to be his feature debut, titled "Come Sunday" (a story about a father, a son and the black Baptist church they make their battleground), hasn’t been able to attract the financing it needs, and his adaptation of the graphic crime novel, "MISS: Better Living Through Crime," which Spike Lee was executive producing, never took off either. Likely also a financing hurdle. It was a project that was on my "2012 New Projects We Are Excited About" short list. Fuqua was originally attached to direct it, but dropped out, likely due to a lack of financing, and moved on to other projects. I’ve read the graphic novel, and reviewed it on this blog; it’s a depression-era, New York-set, violent crime drama about an interracial (black man and white women) pair of killers for hire. It’s gritty noir in a desolate world, filled with morally ambiguous characters; definitely not hollow. There’s enough action to keep fanboys interested; but there’s also some human drama and romance that supports the tale of its 2 main characters in racist 1920s America. I think it was a perfect fit for Seith, and hope it eventually gets made.
The only elder statesman I’d definitely put on this list is Ernest Dickerson. He’s also one of those black filmmakers who’s been around for years, but, for some reason, hasn’t yet really hit the the proverbial *big time* and sadly doesn’t get the kind of press that some of his contemporaries (like Spike Lee) get. At 64 years old, he’s almost 20 years older than guys like Antoine Fuqua and F. Gary Gray, who most of you already know quite well. He’s spent the better half of the last 15 years directing for TV primarily; most recently, he’s been quite involved in the making of "The Walking Dead," directing about a dozen episodes in the last 4 years – some of the most pivotal and thrilling ones. And as he shared with us when I interviewed him 2 years ago, he’s been trying to get his adaptation of Octavia Butler’s "Clay’s Ark" off the ground, but it’s been a struggle raising the money to ensure that it’s done properly. An unabashed lover of *genre* cinema, he said the script was done, and he believed it was a pretty good one; but, of course, attracting funding for it had been a challenge. "Clay’s Ark" is part of Butler’s "Patternmaster" series of novels, which also includes "Wild Seed," "Mind Of My Mind," and "Patternmaster" – a series that detail a secret history continuing from Ancient Egypt to the far future, involving telepathic mind control, and an extraterrestrial plague. It’s just one of a handful of sci-fi and horror projects that Dickerson told us that he had ready to go, but just needed to get financial backing, whether in Hollywood, or outside of studio gates. And, as I said to him during our conversation, I hoped that the success of "The Walking Dead" would help boost his bankability. He did say the success of that series had certainly had an impact on his immediate career, as he was taking more meetings, and that there was apparently more of an awareness of him as a more than capable director, even though he’d been at it for some 20 years, starting out as a DP before transitioning to director. But even if he’s not on Marvel’s short list of directors for "Black Panther," really, someone give this man the money to get one of his other projects off the ground, please. And if he’s not on Marvel’s list, he really should be. He’s the complete package. He has the countless years of experience behind the camera in prime roles, he’s a fan of the material, and loves the genre. Plus he clearly knows what he’s doing. I actually think he’d be a relatively *safe* bet for Marvel, and I’m surprised he’s not at the top of their list (of course I’m assuming that he’s not; he very well may be, and could be talking to them as I type this).
Those are my 4: a younger upstart with oodles of imagination, but without a lot experience; a middle-aged talented pro with more experience (although primarily in TV), who’s probably anxious to finally show the world what he’s capable of in the form of his first feature film, despite being in the business for a decade; another relative upstart with a feature to his credit, and who already has the right kind of approval from the right people; and lastly, a seasoned veteran, whose long list of credits (on the big and small screens), as well as the respect his peers have for him, are really all the talking he needs to do.
One long-shot that I’ll include is South African filmmaker Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, who has 2 feature films to his credit, although neither has been released here in USA (both did travel the international film festival circuit). His most recent, "Of Good Report" I thought was a solid noir, but, sadly, very few people (here in the USA, and certainly not within Hollywood studio suites) actually saw it, despite the fact that it was met with much controversy when it premiered in South Africa, where it was initially banned from screening, but would eventually screen, with a rating suggesting that it wasn’t a film made for kids – obviously!! The controversy did travel, and we did cover it here on S&A. Other more mainstream sites covered it as well – something that I thought would help boost awareness of the film, and the filmmaker. But it doesn’t appear that happened. I’ve spoken to the assured director and I can say that he’s, without a doubt, a student of the cinema (especially *genre* cinema), both as a visceral and intellectual pursuit. And I felt quite confident, after speaking with him, that he definitely had a future in this business, even Stateside, fully expecting that it would only be a matter of time before he gets the right kind of attention that opens up better opportunities for him.
I should also note that his fellow South African director, Gavin Hood (who’s white), leap-frogged other directors after his acclaimed 2005 drama "Tsotsi," to be given the keys to Wolverine of the X-Men (a movie that was forgettable by the way).
And now I hand the mic over to you folks; who do you think Marvel should take a look at for Black Panther? Again, to reiterate, I’m excluding all the usual names that come up when we have these conversations about black directors who should be considered for XYZ studio project; no Antoine Fuqua; no F. Gary Gray; no Tim Story; no Hughes Brothers, etc, etc, etc. I don’t want the popular choices. I want names of filmmakers, with credits (shorts and/or features), who you believe could (based on what you’ve seen of their work) give us a Black Panther movie that we can all cheer.