With Black Panther set for release this coming weekend, the 1998 horror film Blade has recently come up in conversation a handful of time across the internet. For starters, Wesley Snipes was originally going to bring Black Panther to the big screen back in the ’90s, a failed project that directly led to him playing the badass daywalker. And even aside from that connection, you really can’t talk Black Panther without touching upon Blade, a landmark film not just for black heroes but also for comic book adaptations at large.
Let’s not forget that Blade was a smash hit comic book movie long before Marvel’s reign of box office dominance truly began. Sadly, it seems many *have* forgotten.
In a new chat with Slate, Snipes recalls that not only was he initially discouraged from signing on for a comic book movie at a time when comic book movies were not yet a respected thing, but also that studio executives had little faith in the film being a hit.
“I thought it’d be a cool thing to go ahead and play the black vampire,” Snipes tells the site. “I didn’t know that it was considered a comic book adaptation, I approached it as just this cool character that we had no point of reference for, and I would get a chance to do some acting, some martial arts, and wear a cool leather coat like Shaft. So, it was all good for me, you know.”
He continues, “Most of the people around me at the time, they really didn’t agree. They thought it was somewhat beneath my skill sets to be playing this comic book character. They were using things like ‘There’s never been a hit,’ or ‘Nobody’s ever heard of it, why would you want to do that when you have these other roles here? We’re going for awards and all that kind of stuff, and you’re a thespian.’ I was like, yeah, but, for me and my partners, it would be so cool for us to see this in the movies, because we’ve never seen a black vampire that could fight martial arts.”
When Blade was released, *everyone* was surprised by how much of a hit it was.
Snipes recalls, “I remember, one of the executives of the studio at the time, in the screening, commented after they did the focus group, and they got back the numbers, and they saw how the numbers was so high, and there was so much appeal for the character and the world, he commented, ‘I don’t understand why people like this.’ There were others who thought that black people or black talent in film doesn’t sell internationally, doesn’t sell foreign, doesn’t sell in Japan. Blade comes out, and it blows up in Japan, despite the fact that the lead is a black guy. These were testaments to the lack of cultural awareness, intelligence about the world itself, the global landscape, and the appeal that African American culture has around the world.”
With Black Panther now tracking to be one of Marvel’s all-time biggest hits, you could say that the game has changed. Snipes, in hindsight, was 20 years ahead of the curve.