Trying To Understand Carl Franklin's Absence From Movie Theaters In 8 Years...

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 19, 2012 5:09 PM
13 Comments
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I wonder what happened to that series on The Black Panthers that director Carl Franklin (most famous for Devil In A Blue Dress), was developing for HBO back in 2009 when it was first announced.

What was supposed to have been titled, The Black Panthers, the production was to look at the history of the 1960s movement's "inner circle."

Source material that was to be used included Huey Newton's bio Huey: Spirit of the Panther, and Elaine Brown's autobiography A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story, about her involvement with the Black Panthers.

Something tells me I shouldn't hold my breath waiting for that project to be realized.

In coming up with my Cannes 2012 prediction list, Franklin's latest work, which I've been followed since first learning about it in 2010 (an adaptation of Rudolpho Amaya's novel Bless Me Ultima) was one of my selections; but, as of this morning's Cannes lineup announcement, it didn't make the cut (although more announcements are coming, so who knows).

And thinking about Franklin is what inspired this post, wondering what Franklin's been up to, and why he isn't working a lot more than his resume shows... By working, I mean, why aren't studios hiring this guy to direct more films?

With a few notable awards (AFI, Indie Spirit, LA Film Critics and others) and a body of work that goes back to his directorial debut, Nowhere To Run, in 1989, I think he's proven himself to be more than competent behind the camera. Since then, the 63-year-old has directed films like One False Move (1992), Devil In A Blue Dress (1995), One True Thing (1998), High Crimes (2002), and Out Of Time (2003) - not a bad looking list of titles there, I'm sure most would agree, with maybe High Crimes being his weakest of the lot; although, I'll take that over a lot of other serviceable, run-of-the-mill crime/thrillers that have been released since then.

It's also worth noting that, with the exception of Devil In A Blue Dress (probably his best work, IMHO), he was strictly a director-for-hire. With Devil, he also wrote the screenplay. And with those projects he didn't pen, I'd say he did the best he could with the material he was presented. So why isn't he more prolific than he's been since his debut? Why doesn't his name come up more often when new projects are announced? Or is he no longer even on any studio exec's radar (if he ever was)?

One thing that immediately stands out is box office returns for each of his films. None of them was what you would call a huge blockbuster success relative to budget; then again, I can't say most films are either.

And in this age of tentpole projects on every studio's slate, maybe there's no *space* for someone like Franklin, who actually just turned 63 years old on April 11.

But does all of that render him unemployable? I see no reason why he couldn't be directing one film every 2 to 3 years. I think with better material/scripts, he'll produce better films. Or allow him to write his own material from time to time, and give him the money to make them. I know, keep dreaming, right?

I do wonder if he'll be considered for any of the upcoming adaptations of other Walter Mosley works, which we recently announced in deals Mosely has with HBO, TNT and NBC, since he's done one already - albeit 17 years ago.

He's been linked to several studio projects over the years that never were realized, and I couldn't find specific reasons why.

For example, in 2007, he was attached to direct the Halle Berry-Billy Bob Thornton reunion drama/thriller known as Tulia; and later in that year, he was also linked to adapt and direct The Maintenance Man, based on the novel by Michael Baisden, about a Julliard grad who becomes a gigolo after realizing there's more money in prostitution than in music. It was labeled the "urban" version of American Gigolo (which starred Richard Gere), and, according to Variety at the time, was scheduled to begin shooting later that year.

Neither Tulia, nor Maintenance Man have materialized, and are probably stuck in development Limbo for any number of reasons - likely mostly financial.

Also, at one point in 2009, there was a drama/thriller titled Snitch, about a father who goes undercover in order to free his son who was imprisoned after being set up in drug deal; and The Senator's Wife, which, interestingly, once listed actress Jennifer Aniston as one of the script's writers; I'd guess she planned on starring in it as well.

Snitch is no longer listed on Franklin's IMDBPro Page, so we can consider it dead and buried - at least to Franklin, because I remembered that we recently wrote about a project Dwayne Johnson was attached to, also called Snitch; I looked it up, and, no surprise, the synopsis is exactly the same, which tells me that it's the same project. The current incarnation is scheduled for a 2013 release, with Ric Roman Waugh (previously a stunt coordinator) listed as writer/director.

As for the Aniston project, I couldn't find anything on it at all.

According to IMDBPro, he has 2 other projects we haven't seen yet. They are the aforementioned Bless Me, Ultima, a film he's listed as both writer and director, set in New Mexico during WWII, centered on the relationship between a young man and an elderly medicine woman who helps him contend with the battle between good and evil that rages in his village; and El Chico Blanco - a tale of two best friends; one Caucasian, one Hispanic, who have been driven apart. Circumstances lead one to prison and one to the good life. After each rising to power they meet again years later to realize they have become different people, ending their friendship and becoming mortal enemies. 

Will either of thsse films see production? I don't know; El Chico Blanco is listed as being in "pre-production," but who knows if that'll proceed.

But it looks like Bless Me Ultima is indeed complete, however, I couldn't find a single piece of news or media on it. In fact, my old posts on it are all that Google searches return with any real value.

It would be nice to see more of Franklin's work, especially given how much he's aged, and the experiences his had over the last 23 years. That HBO series on The Black Panthers would be a good start.

But I guess in the meantime, we'll have to be happy with the television work he does from time to time; although even those opportunities are few.

I'm trying to get an interview with him, so stay tuned... even trying to find a picture of the man for this post was tough. There aren't many out there; it's like he's in hiding or something :)

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13 Comments

  • LindaThomas | March 8, 2014 10:47 PMReply

    My Uncle Carl is amazing in everything he does. We are very proud of him. He has worked very hard in an industry that is very hard to crack. We hope one day to see him at the academy awards.

  • Edwina | April 20, 2012 12:28 AMReply

    I just saw the other day that he directed the first episode of Magic City for Starz. And it was gorgeous!

  • AccidentalVisitor | April 19, 2012 11:56 PMReply

    Laurel Avenue. That may be his best work. It ended up as a two-part four hour drama on HBO. He may ahve gotten his best reviews for that work or "One False Move". "Devil In A Blue Dress" was good and seems to get better with time. However it was a bit of a disappointment to me because I was a fan of the book. The movie was too short. Should have been at least two hours. And being that short meant too much of the best stuff of the book was left out. Second of all Jennifer Beals was a bad casting decision. In the book her character was blonde and someone who passed for white (even fooling some black people like Easy). But the casting of Jennifer gave that plot point away to those who knew of her racial background but hadn't read the book. Besides...Jennifer looks "ethnic" regardless. She wasn't right for the role of Daphne IMO. But Cheadle as Mouse? Perfection. It's a shame the movie didn't become a franchise just for the loss of seeing more Cheadle as Mouse.

  • jmp | April 20, 2012 5:22 AM

    ACCIDENTALVISITOR, thank you for bringing up HBO's Laurel Avenue- what a truly underrated mini-series. It is well-acted, provocative, and timeless. Why hasn't HBO released this instant classic on dvd ? It is very rare to see a tv show or tv mini-series that depicts the complexity of the African-American life. Carl Franklin should be working on a regular basis, just because of his brilliant directing job of One False Move.

  • Jochen Kunstler | April 19, 2012 10:29 PMReply

    I wish he would be working more, but what shocked me more about the Cannes line up was that it seems that not one movie in the current line up was directed by a woman of any race!

  • CareyCarey | April 19, 2012 6:26 PMReply

    You've been coffy-tized, blacula-rized and super-flied - but now you're gonna be glorified, unified and filled-with-ride... when you see "Five on the Black Hand Side". Opps... maybe I should have explained my banter? Well, I bet Sergio knows, but for those who don't, Carl Franklin was an actor in that early 70's film. Yep, in fact, a group of old school actors were in that joint, including Glynn Turman, Dick Anthony Williams and Ja'net DuBois (Willona Woods of Good Times). Anyway, for some strange reason.... when I saw Franklin's name, I thought of that movie. It probably has a lot to do with my recent blaxplotation weekend *big grin*. But I've thoroughly enjoyed all of Franklin's films. Side bar: Devil In A Blue Dress... who bought Ms. Beals as a white woman? Now, to answer the question "where is and what happened to Carl Franklin?". I'd say, he's a black man... and that should tell the rest of the story. Yep, a black director in America.

  • CareyCarey | April 21, 2012 3:00 PM

    MY GOD Sergio, I know you're the black all-knowing Wizard of Chi-town, but Caribe? Forget the Oscar, you just won the Tyrone. Listen, I remember when the Jeffersons broke in and even Captain & Tennille, and Good Times and Sanford & Son and Flip Wilson and Gunsmoke, but Caribe?! I must have been in jail or zonked out of my head because I've never heard of Caribe.

  • Sergio | April 20, 2012 10:28 AM

    I still remember when Franklin was a regular on the ABC cop show Caribe back in the mid-70's

  • Vanessa | April 19, 2012 5:54 PMReply

    I've enjoyed Franklin's work: One False Move, Devil in A Blue Dress, Out of Time. He's versatile. As far as the Tulia project, I think it was overshadowed by "American Violet." Tulia dealt with the plea bargains and unjust raids in a Texas town; they were trying to go into production at the same time as "Violet." Maybe that's part of the reason.

  • CRITICAL ACCLAIM | April 19, 2012 5:44 PMReply

    Devil in a Blue Dress is EVERYTHING.

  • Steven Flores | April 19, 2012 5:26 PMReply

    He just directed the pilot episode for "Magic City". It's a pretty good show with flaws.

  • Sergio | April 19, 2012 5:21 PMReply

    He did also direct an episode of the HBO WW II series The Pacific

  • Greg | April 19, 2012 5:16 PMReply

    Can't wait for you to interview him. Good luck securing that!
    At one time he was the hottest thing coming. One False Move and Devil in a Blue Dress are my favorites.
    He is only 63. The sixties are the new 40s. So I'm sure he has a lot of steam left in his engine.

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