Blade's Mahershala Ali on Black representation in superhero movies: 'You just weren’t seeing anyone'

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Blade's Mahershala Ali on Black representation in superhero movies: 'You just weren’t seeing anyone'

Ali, who previously portrayed a villain in Netflix's Luke Cage series, will step into the MCU proper as vampire hunter Eric Brooks, aka Blade.

Mahershala Ali Blade Black Panther GETTY YT

The Daywalker will soon be stepping back into the spotlight with a big screen reboot of Blade that folds Eric Brooks (now played by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, taking over the reins from Wesley Snipes) into the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. First announced at San Diego Comic-Con to thunderous applause, the film is set to be the second standalone MCU feature headlined by a Black actor after 2018's Black Panther, which created a cultural phenomenon around the globe. 

Recently appearing on Variety's Awards Circuit podcast, Ali discussed the presence of Black superheroes in cinema and how the idea of casting people of color as the leads in comic book projects didn't really take hold until the late '90s with groundbreaking movies like Spawn and Blade.

"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," he said. "And you see the impact that Black Panther has had on the culture, which go[es] beyond either of those projects. I also think inherent within Black Panther, what that character is about and just the world itself, it’s a story that’s more suited and set up better for an audience to get behind. And then you have what Chadwick [Boseman] did with the role and everybody else and that just took it to a whole other level.”

While he couldn't divulge any teasers about Blade's big screen return just yet, the actor — who may end up taking home a third acting Oscar for Apple's sci-fi project Swan Song — was able to speak to the ravenous devotion and support audiences have shown to the Marvel Universe. Something he understands quite well after playing fan favorite antagonist Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes in Netflix's Luke Cage TV series. 

“You don’t know how big the Marvel Cinematic Universe is until you’re involved in it in some way," he said. "And 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."

Ali made a brief voiceover cameo as Brooks in the post-credits scene of Eternals, which seemed to be setting the stage for a British team-up between Dane Whitman/Black Knight (Kit Harington) and Blade. "The idea is that essentially, we're gonna see some guys with swords teaming up to kill some other bad guys, too," Eternals co-screenwriter Kaz Firpo told SYFY WIRE.

"The anticipation is so great," Ali said on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Thursday night. "My excitement for any role is pretty equal, honestly, because I feel the responsibility is always the same. But 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."

He admitted that he "was losing sleep" over his small Eternals role "because ideally, you want to be talking once you are filming. 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.'"

Marvel Studios has yet to announce a theatrical release date for Blade. Stacy Osei-Kuffour is penning the screenplay, with Bassam Tariq attached as director.

Swan Song, which features Ali in the dual role of a man and his clone, premieres on Apple TV+ Friday, Dec. 17.

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