To be clear, we're not accusing anyone at Marvel of racism, or anything like that. We're sure they're excited to add "Black Panther" to their stable, and there are bound to be advocates there who want to push forward with this film. But right now, they're scared of doing so in fear of putting a box-office ceiling on the film, and in particular, of doing so internationally. Global grosses have been key to the success of their recent films -- 60% of the take from "Thor" came from abroad, and 58% for "The Avengers," and the perception is that, Will Smith aside, international audience don't turn up to see African-American stars.
And to a degree, that could be backed up by statistics. Internationally, if you exclude Will Smith pictures, the only movies in the all-time international top-grossers with a black actor appearing in anything close to a leading role are... Roland Emmerich's "2012," in which Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton and Danny Glover took leads alongside John Cusack; and "The Matrix Reloaded," in which Laurence Fishburne plays second fiddle to Keanu Reeves. In the U.S all-time top 100, you also get "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Rush Hour 2," but each were more than a decade ago (in the case of the former, closer to 30 years ago). And you know what uther movies aren't in the top 100 all-time grossers? "Thor" and "Captain America."
But Marvel is in a position to change things. No one went to see Robert Downey Jr, or Chris Hemsworth, or Chris Evans headline films before they headlined Marvel movies either. And with Will Smith still being the biggest movie star in the world, we simply don't buy that international audiences are somehow racially biased against African-American actors ("Hancock" and "I Am Legend," sold entirely on Smith alone, sit pretty at number 60 and number 73 in the all-time international charts, with "Men In Black 3," which people aren't going to see because of Josh Brolin, at 65 and climbing).
Marvel has now reached the position at which they've successfully created a brand, and we suspect that if they make a Marvel-labelled "Black Panther" movie, people will turn up in large numbers because it's from the people behind "The Avengers." To say that it's tricky to start a film off in a fictional African country, when they've brought "Thor" from Asgard to Budget-Friendly Backlot, New Mexico, and when "Mad Max" sequel "Fury Road" is shooting in Namibia, Africa, because it's cheaper than doing so in Australia, it stinks of cowardice. If the script's not right for the film, say that. But you start to lose goodwill when you make excuses.