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‘Black Panther’ Screenwriter Says Hollywood Needs Black Superheroes, Lack of Diversity Is Just an ‘Excuse’

Writer and director Joe Robert Cole

Writer and director Joe Robert Cole

Earlier this month, Black Panther screenwriter Joe Robert Cole sat down with Mother Jones to talk about working on the upcoming Marvel feature film.

This film, scheduled for release in 2018, stars Chadwick Boseman and will be directed by rising star Ryan Coogler. It will be the first Black-majority film Marvel Studios has produced and the first Black superhero film released in nearly 15 years. Cole will write the script, which will hopefully do the Black Panther character justice.

According to Cole:

“I write characters focusing on them as human beings, and then you wrap them within a culture. So I think I can connect with him as a person with brown skin who’s viewed differently by the world. In terms of his culture, we’re thinking about where we are locating Wakanda within the continent, and what the people and history of that region are like.

“It’s a process of investigation to help inform the story at this point. But we are going to be engaged with consultants who are experts on the continent and on African history and politics.”

Cole has been part of Marvel’s internal writing program for the past two years and has also written for the current hit series American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson. However, his career began in 2006 when he wrote the script for ATL right after graduating college.

Like many people working in Hollywood, the questions about diversity in the industry continue to flood in after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Cole’s position on the matter is simple: diversity makes money. When asked about the excuses Hollywood big-wigs give for the lack of diversity in TV shows and films, Cole responds:

“Well, TV does a better job. In film, the justification has been that movies focused on stories or featuring people of color don’t make money. But with the success of Straight Outta Compton and Creed, and shows like “Empire and “How to Get Away With Murder,” I think that’s becoming a harder argument for companies and studios to make — to the point where it is viewed more of an excuse than reality at times.”

Cole and Coogler are committed to continuing the success of films like Creed and Straight Outta Compton. The way to make that possible is to know the character and the world he lives in. He also realizes the value of the Black hero.

“When I was a kid, I would change superheroes’ names,” he told Mother Jones. “Instead of James Bond, I was James Black. Instead of Batman, I was Blackman. My son will be five when Black Panther comes out. That puts it all into perspective for me.”

This April, Marvel will be releasing a new Black Panther book with Ta-Nehisi Coates as the main creative force behind the title. For fans who can’t wait for 2018, the new series may reintroduce you to the world of Wakanda. It would not be surprising if Cole takes some inspiration from the new series as well.

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