Black Panther Movie: Marvel Refusal to Produce Film is Not Motivated by Racism

Marvel co-president, Louis D'Esposito, has drawn criticism over comments he made
concerning the difficulty of producing a Black Panther film. At this year's Comic-Con, D'Esposito said that creating a world like the fictional African nation of Wakanda is "maybe a little more difficult, maybe ... it's always easier basing it here … For instance, Iron Man 3 is rooted right here in Los Angeles and New York. When you bring in other worlds, you're always faced with those difficulties."

D'Esposito's comments have been met with incredulity because of the fact that Marvel has produced films that are conceivable much more difficult to stage than Wakanda. Thor, for instance, takes place in a whole other dimension populated by the mythical gods of Norse mythology.

The suspicion seems to be that Marvel could have and should have made a Black Panther movie years ago; after all, John Singleton expressed interest as well as several prominent actors. Critics imply that D'Espositos remarks are just another example of Marvel dragging it's feet when it comes to showcasing it's ethnic characters, and that now, as in the past, talks of a Black Panther movie will ultimately come to nothing, as Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress observes.

D’Esposito, in a sort of clumsy way, seems to be talking around some beliefs embedded in Hollywood's conventional wisdom: that it’s easier to sell white men as brawling gods than black men as hugely technologically advanced leaders of a foreign nation ... The real problem is studio executives who have a low opinion of what the public would accept, especially since a Black Panther movie would combine a black hero with a technologically superior African country.

At first blush, I will admit that D'Esposito's comments are a little irritating, if not disconcerting. The idea that a company that can produce Thor and The Avengers might have problems realistically conveying a fictional African nation seems ridiculous. Africa, after all, actually exists. But I think talk of racism is a bit premature.

Consider, for example, that Marvel's first foray into the modern movie market was none other than black vampire hunter Blade. It was the success of Blade that gave Marvel the confidence to go ahead and produce the hugely successful X-Men movies. If Marvel truly had racist motivations, Blade would not have been their first showcase; but, it was. Moreover, Marvel has taken advantage of opportunities to showcase black characters. Storm was in all three X-men films. They chose black actor Michael Clark Duncan to portray a traditionally Caucasian kingpin in Daredevil, and they did the same when they cast Samuel L. Jackson in the role of Nick Fury, another character who has been portrayed as white in the comics.

Personally, as a black reader, I do hope that Marvel takes advantage of its enormous staple of characters and chooses to portray more of their black, Latino and Asian characters in the future. Despite D'Esposito's careless comments, I don't think he meant anything by them. Marvel still has my confidence and I will continue to purchase Marvel comics and go to Marvel movies until they prove me wrong.