Has next year’s Wolf Of Wall Street already been found?
The Ryan Reynolds/samuel L. Jackson action [FIRSTLOOK] franchise is back, this time with added Salma Hayek AMON WARMANN chews over the main moment in Black film and TV this month
How The Black List, an annual selection of Hollywood’s best unproduced screenplays, is now a bigger kingmaker than ever
THE BLACK LIST began out of boredom, and became a crystal ball. “I was just looking for some reading material for a vacation,” laughs Franklin Leonard, founder of the annual compendium of Hollywood’s best unproduced screenplays. The year was 2005 and Leonard was working at Leonardo Dicaprio’s production company, Appian Way Productions. “All the scripts I was reading were kinda underwhelming so I emailed other producers, asking them to add the names of great, unproduced screenplays to a spreadsheet.” When he got back from holiday, he discovered that the list had taken on a life of its own. “Execs were using it to discover the scripts they should be reading and the talent they ought to be talking to.”
In the 15 years since, the Black List has grown and grown. The Wolf Of Wall Street, Django Unchained, Juno and Whiplash are just some of the movies to have originated from the survey, put together using the input of over 375 film execs. It’s also become a diversifying force in the film industry. “It used to be that the advice to screenwriters was: move to Hollywood and try to network,” says Leonard. “But not everyone has the means to do that. Imagine if a Premier League team said to an aspiring player, ‘Okay, if you want to play on our team, just move to the city and keep networking and maybe you’ll get a tryout.’ No!”
To find the future Ronaldos of the screenwriting world, Leonard evolved the Black List into a website where screenwriters anywhere could upload their scripts, allowing industry producers to read them if they liked the sound of their descriptions. Oscar glory quickly followed: Leonard recalls that watching Argo, another Black List-propelled script, win Best Picture was a particularly surreal moment.
Today, it’s a respected part of the Hollywood ecosystem, and this year’s selection was as eclectic as ever, from madcap comedies about homemade Harry Potter robots (Monisha Dadlani’s The Boy Who Died) to an unlikely drama about a country-music star who befriends a pack of marsupials (Isaac Adamson’s Possum Song). It also emphasised the ability of the Black List to provide a glimpse of where Hollywood might be heading. “You can always pick out a few trends,” Leonard explains. “There were a lot of scripts on this year’s list about unconventional relationships with space and time: people on spaceships for long periods of time, and people repeating the same day over and over, which I think is how writers are realising the pandemic,” he says. “There were also a surprising amount of scripts about the rise and fall of corporate empires,” he points out, nodding to biopics in 2020’s batch about the creators of Vice, Beanie Babies and Bikram yoga.
Leonard acknowledges that, in a Hollywood dominated by franchises, the way the Black List spotlights original stories is more crucial than ever. “It definitely has more of a role to play because of the current influx of sequels, remakes, cinematic universes and so on,” he says. Fifteen years on, the Black List is more vital than ever. Just don’t ask Leonard to predict what the next 15 years might look like. “Right now we can’t predict the next 15 days,” he laughs. “What I know is that there’ll continue to be a hunger for new stories, and hopefully the Black List can continue helping Hollywood find them.”
FIRST CAME THE Hitman’s Bodyguard. Incoming is The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. It’s surely only a matter of time before we get ‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Second Cousin’s Mate Barry’s Bodyguard’.
The “Wife” in question is Salma Hayek as Sonia Kincaid, partner of Samuel L. Jackson’s Samuel Kincaid — and it’s pretty clear from this image that she’s adding a completely different dynamic. Where the original traded heavily on the chemistry between its two leads, Jackson and Ryan Reynolds (as a hitman and his bodyguard, respectively), this follow-up sees the pair rescue Sonia from a mysterious baddie, played here by Antonio Banderas. High on the anticipation list: seeing more of the Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard’s Captor’s Dressing Gown.
SOUL IS TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK FOR BLACK REPRESENTATION IN ANIMATION
IT’S TAKEN PIXAR 23 films to make a feature with a Black protagonist. Such firsts always give me mixed feelings — great, but should it really have taken that long? — but there was much to be excited about with Soul; in addition to a dynamite cast that included hall-of-famers Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett, the story of band teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) and the classic dilemma of pursuing his passion or settling for job security felt intensely relatable to me. Disappointingly, instead of being the
Black Panther-esque game-changer I was hoping for, it only half-delivers on its promise.
There are aspects of Soul that are a breath of fresh air in the animated realm. Pixar consulted people like Ryan Coogler and Daveed Diggs to ensure that all the cultural details were as authentic as possible, and it pays dividends. You can see it in how Joe interacts with his mother, and in the good-natured ribbing that occurs in a New York barbershop. I wanted more of these warm interactions than we ultimately see.
But a mid-movie twist is maddeningly familiar. Like The Princess And The Frog and 2019’s Will Smithstarring Spies In Disguise,
Soul is yet another animated movie in which the rare Black lead is denied their own body for the majority of their screen time. Worse still, once that plot-twist occurs, the Black character is voiced by a white actress (Tina Fey), an especially galling decision given that we live in a world where Get Out exists. It’s also an issue that’s entirely avoidable, as a Black man or woman could easily have been cast in the role of 22 with little change to the narrative.
It all ties into a recurring problem when it comes to lead Black characters in animation — why are we not allowed to be our authentic Black selves for the entirety of the runtime? This would be less of an issue if there were more animated films with Black protagonists in the world, but we’re a long way from that. In order to get there, we need more films that showcase our relatable humanity while we’re in our bodies. That way, there will be a little less pressure on the seconds, thirds and beyond who follow.