EXCLUSIVE: Marvel/Disney paved the way with Black Panther and Studio 8 is taking it further in a move created to inspire conversation and deconstruct the superhero genre. Seith Mann has been hired by Studio 8 to adapt the comic series BLACK which explores the idea if what only black people had superpowers? The company plans to franchise the IP and also develop the follow up comic BLACK [AF]: America’s Sweetheart which has a female lead.
The series comes from co-creator/writer Kwanza Osajyefo, co-creator/designer Tim Smith 3, artist Jamal Igle and cover artist Khary Randolph. Mann, who co-created The Breaks and directed the pilot for VH-1, has also directed episodes of The Wire, Homeland, Friday Night Lights and The Walking Dead.
BLACK looks at an increasingly polarized world where — after inexplicably surviving being gunned down by police due to racial profiling — young Kareem Jenkins joins a secret underground group of black super heroes and must choose between personal revenge or collective action to achieve real and lasting change.
Osajyefo told Ebony magazine a couple of years ago that he had created this world out of frustration. “During my entire career, the industry was, and is, driven by a white male perspective. That this single perspective is supposed to be the one that appeals to everyone is wrong. Why can’t a Black perspective appeal to everyone? Full inclusion requires Black leadership, or leadership of color, to be fair. There is this systemic crutch for leaders of the comics industry to lean on: Many say there are no qualified candidates of color. That makes it easy to rest on your laurels and make no effort to understand why you may have fewer candidates or can’t seem to hire applicants of color. It allows people to stay in their comfort zone, maintain status quo, and not have their position usurped.”
Osajyefo wasn’t the only creative talent that had the same frustration. In the early 1990s, two different Black filmmakers had tried relentlessly to get a Black superhero movie made and were rebuffed at every turn (granted one project apparently wasn’t really that well thought out creatively). This happened after the successes of Boyz n the Hood and Juice. The general line of thinking around town was that there was little domestic box office demand and even less interest in overseas markets — that a black-starring product, let alone a superhero, just doesn’t sell to international audiences. And there were stats to back that up.
However, this was also at a time when the studios had only one person of color leading their marketing and distribution ranks (and almost none in production where there was basically only Stephanie Allain and Kevin Jones). Ashley Boone, Jr. was at MGM, but there were no other people of color in power positions. Disney later hired Alan Dinwiddie from Nestle onto its marketing team to infuse the mindset of target marketing. Most of the packaged goods companies in America understood that there were different segments and voices in this country but, in the early 1990s, the entertainment industry was woefully and ignorantly way behind. When this reporter wrote about this problem in Chicago for the commercial production/advertising industry, it was welcomed. When this reporter wrote about it in Los Angeles for the entertainment industry, it was met with verbal attacks from white, male executives, quite possibly, as Osajyefo stated to Ebony magazine, who didn’t want their positions usurped.
But walls are meant to be destroyed not built. And Marvel and Disney has now busted down that barrier with Black Panther which has grossed $681M domestically and $642.9M internationally. They introduced the Black Panther character before unfurling the world of Wakanda, but it worked. The same frustrations that Osajyefo has stated has also been felt by women (of every color), Hispanics, Asians, Middle Easterners and the Disabled community (of every color) for years.
Two years ago, Osajyefo took issue that white narratives ruled the day and while there have been great inroads made (esp. in TV), in many way, it still does. If any company could put the project forth as meant to be creatively on screen, it would be Studio 8 where its head Jeff Robinov early on worked for Albert and Allen Hughes during the beginning of their careers when they pumped out Menace II Society and Dead Presidents and as their agent at ICM fought for their creative vision to be realized. That relationship continues still to this day as the Studio 8, Albert Hughes-directed Alpha bows Aug. 17. Guy Danella and Rishi Rajani are overseeing the project for Studio 8.
While Osajyefo and Tim Smith 3 are attached as co-producers, Matteo Pizzolo of Black Mask Studios is producing. Black Mask Studios was founded in 2013 and since has built a library of over 50 bestselling series that all share a subervise sensibility. Blacck and its associated universe of comics are published by them. The company’s current series include the Eisner Award- and GLAAD Award-nominated Kim & Kim, Grant Morrison’s Sinatoro, and the incendiary hit Calexit.
This Wednesday (April 25) is the launch of a new BLACK comic book mini-series called BLACK [AF]: Widows And Orphans about two of the series’ characters hunting down traffickers of empowered black children.
Mann is repped by CAA, Writ Large Management, and Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano.