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OPINION: The Secret to DC’s (Eventual) Cinematic Success

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Glory to Kevin Feige that we live in these times. Within the current zeitgeist, the portends of Thanos’ arrival is such that even your Grandmama can feel the magnitude of its gravity. The threat of the Mad Titan is so great, that not only are the best and brightest of the MCU rallying to save their respective worlds (and franchises) but the Distinguished Competition is looking pretty shook as well. Now I’m somewhat of a reluctant cynic, but recent announcements within the Warner Bros. stable suggests a smattering of frantic “suits” all looking for the next big wave of social reform to hitch on to and they’re pulling out all the stops. In the interest of crafting a coherent, genuinely entertaining and ultimately lucrative film empire, “from scratch” even, Ava DuVernay is now directing a New Gods movie, while Cathy Yan is heading up the next Harley Quinn project. As great as they are announcements and opportunities for both, it’s also a bit of a no-brainer with regard to current trends, i.e., #BlackWomen, #MeToo, etc. DC Comics’ New Gods project is the highest profile directorial procurement, but this wasn’t the first “first” that they were looking to announce. Before the appointment of Ava, however, keep in mind that DC originally positioned Zack Snyder as the “architect” of the DC universe, and went that fell through, they pursued Ben Affleck, Joss Whedon, and Matt Reeves.

Imagine If DC Execs Really Could Tap Into the Speed Force.

The Flash with its myriad behind-the scenes issues, was hoping to announce Dope director Rick Famuyiwa as the helmer until he dropped out 4 months later over creative differences. Had the plan gone through as envisioned, especially with the original March 2018 release date, Ryan Coogler and Black Panther would have been pitted directly against Rick Famuyiwa and The Flash. (See what they almost did there?) Although Famuyiwa departed the project in the Fall of 2016, only as recently as March 2018 did The Flash find its new directors. Supposedly they’d gone after Ben Affleck again, because you know, setting Batman back for years over substance abuse issues is hella chills. It’s almost as if they’d missed the “Black Man Director” boat and had decided to back to the well. No shade implied, by the way. The new directorial team are the writing duo behind Spider-Man: Homecoming, and good movies begin with good writing. For real. We can fight about it, but you’ll lose. The best we can hope at this point, is that Daley and Goldstein stay on, because right now another director exodus could kill whatever momentum The Flash has going forward and it’s already on life support.

It Not About What You Think It Is.

What, money? Of course it’s about that. I’m sure some of you are thinking of the “P” word, and seriously, how couldn’t you? It’s sexy, absolutely craves aural attention, and just plain fits into the lexicon whenever this conversation comes up. The problem with “pandering” is that even the suggestion comes off as dismissive, especially considering the history of DC Comics. To pander in this case suggests that the primary reason to diversify production staff is to go after a specific demographic, and that just plain isn’t the DC of my youth. Regardless of some controversial views of it’s more vocal contributors then and now, DC Comics is where I first saw the most populous and prominently featured Black and Latinx heroes. (Even though Vibe was a bit of a cosmic joke until Carlos Valdes put on the shades) Along with Warner Bros, this is the same partnership that gave us Static Shock, and incorporated Milestone Media into its own universe in 2008. In 2013, Kevin Tsujihara became the first Asian to head up an American movie studio. As of January 2018, Walter Hamada became the new head of DC Films, and is co-running the Shazam! movie. No, it’s not about pandering. Leave that one where it is. In a lot of ways, DC Comics has been ahead of the inclusion wave for decades. But clearly there were other wells to tap, and Marvel dropped the ball big time on one of them.

Coincidence? Maybe, But You Know What Some People Say About Those.

For as enjoyable as Wonder Woman was, even with its third act flaws, the name “Patty Jenkins” carries massive weight now. With Patty attached, we’d gotten all-female screenings, new box-office records, and in subsequent weeks (White) Feminism was on the rise (again). Two months after release, Black Panther is still changing the world, literally. With Cathy Yan directing the next Harley Quinn outing, DC Films gets two birds with one stone — Yan will be the first Asian woman EVER to direct a superhero film. On the subject of Asian Inclusion, Aquaman director James Wan recently stated that reshoots to include Randall Park as Dr. Shin had always been a part of the script, despite announcing that production had wrapped in the Fall of 2017. (Did any one even know Park was involved until this week?) Everyone deserves their day in the spotlight, and considering how little Asian POCs are represented, why not now? All I’m saying is, we see you DC and you can easily do better. You really want to make a genuine statement? Tell me a Kenan Kong movie is coming. Cast Daniel Wu, or Lewis Tan, even an unknown actor of Asian descent, I dare you. John Ridley’s also about to get a chance with DC since The American Way was also announced as an upcoming feature this week. Lastly, and also this week, Steven Spielberg is directing Blackhawk for DC, but a lot more on that one later…

“You’ve Got The Touch! You’ve Got The Power!”

We’re a decade into Feige’s vision and in less than ten days, that wave is about to crest all over the box office while DC is still struggling to keep up. A lot speculate that this is where DC is losing the most footing, trying to beat Marvel Studios at its own game. That’s not happening at this stage. The last time DC tried specifically to ape a Marvel formula was the incredibly divisive Suicide Squad. As it turned out, throwing together a band of D-list characters all bound by the power of a rockin’ soundtrack wasn’t the only thing that Guardians of the Galaxy had going on. Alternatively, it’s not like after release, fans were necessarily rushing out to see “the next James Gunn project.” Gunn is a talented writer and director, but after the script, characterizations are where the bread is buttered. This is where DC’s strength lies or should. If you would have told me in high school that Tony Stark and Steve Rogers would be more financially viable than Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, I’d have called you insane. Some of the most iconic characters in comics arguably belong to DC. Representation of those characters should be paramount, as opposed to simply reacting to changing social trends. Black Panther was always going to be a hit from anticipation alone, Ryan Coogler’s involvement was just an added bonus. Good writing makes a good character, which should lead to good stories and films, so on and so forth. Keep in mind though, it took Synder to fall off and Whedon to walk off, before the real changes started with DC. Despite of what may or may not be implied here, I do have faith in the new initiative as a fan of the culture and wish success to all parties involved. DC’s always had the characters and the stories. However, to say that they aren’t potentially hustling backwards with these stunt tactics would be simply untrue.

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Read more from Dom Watkins, right here.