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.
Why He Could Do It: A near-contemporary of Ejiofor at drama school LAMDA, Oyelowo didn't come out of the gates quite so immediately, at least as far as Hollywood casting directors were concerned, but he's certainly on the rise. After breaking out in the U.K. as Henry VI on stage, and on TV in "Spooks" (or "M:I-5" in the U.S.), Oyelowo got a decent role (after false starts in "A Sound Of Thunder" and "Derailed") as a key supporting part in "The Last King Of Scotland." It was seemingly that performance that led Lee Daniels to cast him in the plum part of Martin Luther King in "Selma," which certainly got his name out there, even if the film is still yet to happen. He was a part of two big hits last year, with supporting turns in "The Help" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," and has even more on the way. He finally teamed with Daniels on "The Paperboy" and the upcoming "The Butler," plays Ira Clark in Spielberg's "Lincoln," and backs up Tom Cruise in "Jack Reacher." He's only getting more and more famous, and getting to show more and more of his considerable acting skills, so he could be a strong choice.
Why He Might Not: As well as he's been doing of late, George Lucas' "Red Tails" is his only real lead to date, and Marvel could be nervous about him carrying a film on his shoulders (although they shouldn't be). Age might also be an issue as well. He's 36, and would be pushing 40 by the time "Black Panther" hits theaters. Again, if we're going to see T'Challa becoming the Black Panther after his father's death, Oyelowo's age may put him out of reach.
Why He Could Do It: Mackie's been walking away with scenes since "Half Nelson" half a decade ago, but since "The Hurt Locker" in 2009, the 32-year-old actor -- like Ejiofor and Oyelowo, a stage veteran -- has been virtually inescapable. In the last year or so, he's played key roles in "The Adjustment Bureau," "What's Your Number?," "Real Steel," "Ten Year" and "Man On A Ledge," suggesting there's virtually nothing he can't do, and he'll be just as busy in the coming year, with "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," "Gangster Squad," "Pain & Gain" and "Runner Runner" all on the way. It's this summer's double-bill of 'Abe Lincoln' and "Gangster Squad" that promises to give him a big lift, letting him show off his action skills, and hopefully exposing him to a wider audience than ever before. We can also seem him fitting in seamlessly with the rest of "The Avengers" ensemble (which includes his "Hurt Locker" co-star Jeremy Renner), probably more so than the other choices here.
Why He Might Not: All that being said, he's fallen into something of a rut of sidekicks and FBI agents of late, and Marvel may be more comfortable with him in a supporting role than as a lead, although they'd be wrong. He's also got a leaner, more angular look than the character is traditionally depicted with, though that's probably not a deal-breaker if Marvel think he's the right man for the job. He's certainly got the range for the part, and the company could do a lot worse.
Why He Could Do It: Not a familiar face just yet, Boseman's best known at this point for TV gigs on ABC Family's "Lincoln Heights" and NBC's "Persons Unknown," aside from a small part in sports biopic "The Express." But that should change in the next year with Brian Helgeland choosing him to play the iconic role of Jackie Robinson in "42," opposite Harrison Ford and Nicole Beharie. It's the kind of part that could be a star-maker, if the film works, and he'll certainly be on more casting lists from now on. He's got a great look for the part, and from what we have seen of his TV work ("Fringe," "Justified"), he's a strong actor, with an athletic build. And with a side career as a playwright, he could easily sell the fierce intelligence that makes T'Challa one of the smartest people in the Marvel universe.
Why He Might Not: Well, he is still a virtual unknown -- even more so than Chris Hemsworth was at the pre-"Thor" point of his career. And "42" doesn't hit until next April, and given that they're likely aiming for a 2014 release, the studio probably won't want to wait to see if the film lands at the box office. And could playing a character as iconic as Robinson, particularly when you start as an unknown, hurt more than it could help? Sports biopics have never exactly been a road to stardom -- just ask his "The Express" co-star Rob Brown.
Honorable Mentions: Even ruling out actors who've already cropped up in the Marvel movie universe (even if they would have been good choices) -- Derek Luke, Idris Elba, Don Cheadle and Terrence Howard -- there's still plenty of strong choices out there. Michael Ealy's hot off "Think Like A Man," although like Omari Hardwick, he's close to 40, so may be too old. "Chronicle" and "Friday Night Lights" star Michael B. Jordan's a better fit at 25, and he could be a very interesting call. Other younger actors who might work include Jesse Williams of "Cabin in the Woods," Nate Parker from "Red Tails," and Edi Gathegi from "X-Men First Class."
Otherwise, British actor Noel Clarke is about to get a lot more exposure thanks to "Star Trek 2," and Columbus Short has proven charismatic in the likes of "The Losers," although he's gone to TV for "Scandal" more recently. In terms of bigger names, Will Smith and Jamie Foxx are obvious ones, but they're bound to be too expensive for the oft-thrifty Marvel, and are pretty much too old anyway. For more left-field choices, there's Drake, who has plenty of acting experience thanks to "Degrassi," while some have already mentioned Donald Glover, although we'd argue that the qualities that made him an interesting prospect for Peter Parker make him wrong for this role.