[Update] Ava DuVernay is the Black Woman Superhero We Want and Need, But is She the One We Deserve?

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[Update] Well, turns out that Ava DuVernay WON’T be directing Black Panther after all. The director said in her own words:

“I’m not signing on to direct Black Panther. I think I’ll just say we had different ideas about what the story would be. Marvel has a certain way of doing things and I think they’re fantastic and a lot of people love what they do. I loved that they reached out to me.”

There’s a lot to speculate on what exactly that means, and brings into question just what conflict on the story and narrative that they differed on. Either way, not exactly the best look for Marvel, who had the opportunity to expand its diversity in the films both in front of and behind the camera, but we may find out where the break down was at some point in the future. With that kind of exit and that fine a point on it, its likely that DuVernay won’t be directing any Marvel flicks in the near future. But hey, DC has about two million films coming out too and they could use all the help they can get as well.

The following was originally published on June 23rd, 2015

***This is based on speculative news about the Blank Panther film by several sources. As of now, the news has not been officially confirmed by Marvel.***

When I was in junior high, I remember that my history teacher gave us a choice for our year end test. He had two tests that we could take: One was 25 questions long and the following week. The other was 40 questions but in two weeks. As a class, we naïve teens elected to take the 25 question test with the shorter prep time. The exam wasn’t too hard, but was time consuming. Half of it was essay questions of some sort, multiple parts to each answer. When we were done, he showed us the second exam, which consisted of 10 real questions and 30 questions asking us our favorite sport, color, ice cream flavor, etc. The lesson he intended to imbue on us? Ask more questions and don’t jump at the first shiny thing that’s presented to you.

I kind of feel like this about Ava DuVernay, famed director of Selma, taking the gig as director of the upcoming Black Panther film. Now, this isn’t cut and dry any way you slice it. Is it a good pick for Marvel? Absolutely. Am I excited about the team up of the best Black actor (Chadwick Boseman) and director currently working, for one of my favorite superheros? Come on, you already know the answer to that. But…didn’t this feel a little easy for us consumers? Didn’t we yell DuVernay’s name into the ether for this around the time the super White Academy Awards were snubbing her, just for them to put this entrée on the silver-est of platters? I mean, how often do we get exactly what we want when it comes to these types of scenarios? Typically, when it’s pretty easy to do. I’m slightly skeptical.

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Making Ava DuVernay the director of Black Panther doesn’t make Black Panther black as all hell as a film. It is Marvel aka Disney after all, so I wouldn’t anticipate any unchecked righteousness, even though this film will center on an African Nation that is more advanced than any other country in the world and has made a habit of kicking out White imperialists and colonizers. Most of that leg work will be dealt with in the screenplay, one that hasn’t been nailed down yet and hasn’t really be talked about since Mark Bailey the documentarian was rumored to be involved years ago. Will DuVernay have some say in that? I’m sure. But as of now, that very key element is still up in the air. So here’s the question, while it is really, really cool to have a Black filmmaker directing Black Panther, is that what we need?

Well, that depends on your priorities. In a vacuum I would almost always say yes. If we have the opportunity to watch a talented Black director to helm one of the most recognized Black superheroes of all time, then I’m not only on that bandwagon, I’m giving away tickets. But I think what we, understandably get caught up on is the Black director part. What about the Black Woman director part?

There’s still a big Marvel movie out there, that is breaking from the straight white male club that has dominated most of their line-up so far other than Black Panther and it’s a little badass hero I like to call Carol (Ms. Danvers if you’re nasty). Captain Marvel, Marvel‘s first film with a lead woman protagonist still doesn’t have a director. And this is purely opinion, but the only thing that gets botched more in Hollywood than White directors putting together Black-centered stories (The Help, Get on Up), are male directors botching woman-centered stories.

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I would feel different if this were Luke Cage on Netflix. The unrated, street level storytelling caters more to an unadulterated look at being a large Black man in present day and reality-based New York City. A Marvel property feels like it will be more on rails when it comes to just how much overt Blackness we will see. As in not much. I have less confidence that DuVernay will be able to influence the film in a way that we expect and have seen from her previous films. It is however a great time to put a more feminine stamp on the superhero movie because it is the biggest hole in Marvel’s genres right now. There will have been at 10 solo films in Marvel’s run by the time we get a Captain Marvel movie, all of which starring men and I’d imagine that there will be some pressure to make sure it’s not just another beat ’em up superhero flick in the shape of a woman. Considering that Joss Whedon was deemed “The Man that Writes Women Oh So Well” (all of the sarcasm there), has fell on his face when it comes to Black Widow, I’m not particularly optimistic for Marvel’s first woman-led film if they aren’t courting the best women directors out there. And DuVernay is among the best, woman or otherwise.

Then again, it’s completely and utterly possible that DuVernay wanted to direct Black Panther above anything else Marvel might have offered her. I mean, if she had said no to do that, she’s showing more restraint than I could muster if I were in her position. If that’s the case, then I can sit well with that, because it doesn’t mean that they withheld the opportunity to have a rising director (who happens to be a Black woman) steer the creativity for it’s soon to be crown jewel hero (who happens to be a White woman). Forgive me. I’m skeptical of asking for near perfect things and getting them without much fuss. At the end of the day, I’m pretty happy that Black Panther has an excellent director at the helm, but I wonder if Captain Marvel needs her even more.

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  • William is the Editor-In-Chief, leader of the Black Knights and father of the Avatar. With Korra's attitude, not the other one.

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