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

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 19, 2012 at 5:09PM

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.
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Carl Franklin
Carl Franklin

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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