Blade star Mahershala Ali talks Black representation in superhero movies

Dec 17, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Portrait of Mahershala Ali who stars in the latest edition of HBO's "True Detective." Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY
Dec 17, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Portrait of Mahershala Ali who stars in the latest edition of HBO's "True Detective." Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY /

Until very recently, Black superheroes were far and few between in the world of comic book movies. After Marvel’s Black Panther, the vampire-hunting vampire Blade is perhaps the best known, but the character vanished from theaters after the third Blade movie with Wesley Snipes was almost universally panned back in 2004. However, with Disney now making a new Blade movie, new lead actor Mahershala Ali says it’s essential to ensure that people of color are represented within the genre.

The new Blade film was announced back at Comic-Con in 2019 and will be the second MCU feature to be led by a Black actor following the immensely successful Black Panther in 2018. Speaking on Variety‘s Awards Circuit podcast, Ali credited Spawn and the original Blade for paving the way for Black superheroes as a box office force:

"I don’t think I even noticed how — at least at that time — I was accustomed to there not being Black superheroes … You just weren’t seeing anyone, but once Spawn came out and Blade, then it was really exciting just to have some superheroes that looked like you in that place."

In 1972, Luke Cage became the first Black superhero to get his own comic series. In the recent Netflix adaptation, Ali played fan-favorite antagonist Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, so he’s already entwined in this world, although he didn’t “know how big the Marvel Cinematic Universe [was]” until he joined the show.

"I’ve gotten just a light taste of it, but the fan base is [laughs] big and strong. There is an army of fanatic fans out there when it comes to the Marvel stuff. And so, [you’ve] gotta respect it."

Mahershala Ali discusses his cameo in Eternals

While Mahershala Ali couldn’t reveal anything about the plot of the new Blade movie, a few hints have been dropped elsewhere. Eternals co-screenwriter Kaz Firpo told SyFy Wire that “we’re gonna see some guys with swords teaming up to kill some other bad guys.”

While that may seem annoyingly vague, Firpo knows what he’s talking about, because Ali’s Bade turns up for a brief voice cameo at the end of Eternals, apparently setting up an alliance between Blade and Black Knight (Kit Harington).

Speaking on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Ali said that he was “was losing sleep” over his small cameo for Eternals. “Ideally, you want to be talking once you are filming,” he said. “A hundred percent of the time, my first day on any set, on any job, I hate it. I hate how I sound; I don’t believe myself. You’re trying to get comfortable in the character, so to have to talk before you’re even actually filming was challenging. But I’m grateful for it because it made it feel real. It’s like, ‘Ok, now we’re going.'”

Ali said that he has never felt anything like the anticipation building around this movie. “I’ve never walked into a role where the anticipation of it was so great. Where people were already so familiar with the character and have real opinions and points of view and all that. And so, it feels different; there’s clearly an added layer of pressure, which I will embrace.”

Mahershala Ali is “humbled” by Wesley Snipes’ comments

One person who thinks that Ali will rise to the challenge is Wesley Snipes, who played the character on the big screen in a successful movie trilogy between 1998 and 2004. Speaking on The Breakfast Club, Ali said he was encouraged by Snipes’ support.

"Man, you know, [I’m] humbled and so encouraged by that because he didn’t have to say that. Wasn’t nobody really asking him like that. So for him to come out and say that, somebody I look up to so much, I sincerely appreciated that. So thank you, brother."

Talking more about the coming reboot, the hosts raised the possibility that Marvel’s many multiverses may allow Snipes’ version of the character to return to the franchise alongside Ali’s new incarnation. The actor wouldn’t be drawn in, insisting that he “can’t talk about anything.”

Blade will be written by Stacy Osei-Kuffour and directed by Bassam Tariq. Filming is expected to begin in July 2022.

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