By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 6, 2012 at 11:19AM
For all their success so far, the Marvel movies have, aside from a few smallish parts, been a pretty lilywhite affair to date: only Samuel L. Jackson was a significant minority presence in "The Avengers." But signs are that the studio aren't going to keep that up for too long: yesterday, it was reported that the company are actively moving ahead with a movie about "Black Panther," the African prince-turned-crimefighter, and are targeting a release in 2014 or 2015.
Marvel has denied the reports, but this wouldn't be the first time they've denied something that turned out to be bang-on, and Latino Review's track record with Marvel scoops is pretty strong, so it seems to be a good bet that there'll be an official announcement about a "Black Panther" movie before too long. Which of course leads to the question: Who could play the character?
For the uninitiated, Black Panther is T'Challa, was the son of the chief of the Panther Tribe in the fictional African nation of Wakanda. The leader dons the mantle of the panther as a symbol of office, but when his father, T'Chaka, is killed by the villain Ulysses Klaw, T'Challa grows up to become ruler, and soon becomes involved in the Marvel universe as a whole, often fighting alongside the Fantastic Four and, eventually, The Avengers.
T'Challa is a genius-level intellect (with a Ph.D in physics from Oxford, no less), who's also a powerful athlete, something heightened by special powers from a connection with the Wakandan Panther god, which gives him acute senses and superhuman speed and agility. It's a great opportunity for a black actor to make the leap to A-list stardom, and we've picked out five strong contenders below. Do you have your own favorites? Let us know in the comment section.
Why He Could Do It: The 34-year-old Ejiofor has been a presence in the movies since debuting in Steven Spielberg's "Amistad" fifteen years ago, and a leading man since Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things" a decade ago, but a major role in a Marvel movie would be sure to make him the A-lister that he's long deserved to be. The actor has tentpole experience, thanks to "Salt" and "2012." He's proven his action chops in "Redbelt" and "Serenity" (the latter of which was helmed by Marvel's darling Joss Whedon, which could well be an advantage). And he is, if you haven't noticed, one of the best actors of his generation, something that should be hammered home when he leads an all-star cast in Steve McQueen's "Twelve Years A Slave," in a role that stands an excellent chance of landing him an Oscar nomination.
Why He Might Not: Taking the occasional paycheck gig is one thing, but signing up to the restrictive multi-film Marvel contract is another, whatever the benefits. Ejiofor's proven reluctant to repeat himself in the past, hopping from stage to screen to TV, and being locked down until the end of the decade may be too high a price to pay. He's also 34 years old, which if Marvel plan on telling T'Challa's origin story, may be a touch on the older side.
Why He Could Do It: Having made one of the most impressive debuts of 2011 in Joe Cornish's "Attack The Block," Boyega's become a fan-favorite for the role in the last 24 hours. The actor left scorch marks on the screen in Joe Cornish's film as the 15-year-old mugger Moses, who discovers leadership and responsibility as his council estate is attacked by aliens, and the sheer charisma displayed swiftly got him Hollywood's attention. Spike Lee cast him as the lead in his HBO pilot "Da Brick," and while that wasn't picked up, he's been busy elsewhere and is currently shooting "Half Of A Yellow Sun," co-starring Ejiofor, Anika Noni Rose and Thandie Newton, in Nigeria. He'd be a pretty powerful choice for the character, for sure. And from his Twitter feed yesterday, it sounds like he wants the part...
Why He Might Not: For one, he's very young, only 20 years old, and usually playing younger. That might suit the story Marvel wants to tell, but he's still nearly a decade shy of even his youngest potential "The Avengers" co-star. When "The Avengers 2" rolls around, would he be able to go toe-to-toe with Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo et al? "Attack The Block" was also principally a cult hit, and he's still virtually unknown to wider audiences, and for a film like "Black Panther," Marvel may want a more recognizable name.