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SYFY WIRE Superman

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Superman film will be set in its own universe, ponders 20th century period story

By Matthew Jackson
Calvin Ellis Black Superman

Back in February, Warner Bros. announced that celebrated author and comics writer Ta-Nehisi Coates is penning the script for a new Superman film from producer J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot label, and that the project would very likely feature a Black actor donning the iconic cape. Coates is still hard at work on the script and reportedly will be for most of the rest of the year. But according to a new report in The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. is already pondering its options for what direction the potentially game-changing film will take. 

According to THR, though it's "phenomenally early" days at this point, the studio has begun the search for a director on the project. Though Abrams has a history of a high-powered franchise restarts at this point, the filmmaker behind Star Trek and Star Wars: The Force Awakens is expected to remain in a producer-only role this time around, as studio execs feel having him take over the director's chair for the first Black Superman film would be "tone-deaf."

That said, having Abrams around as a producer means Warner Bros. can use his blockbuster experience as a kind of backbone for the film's creative team and, possibly, go out on a limb with an up-and-coming filmmaker who's never made a tentpole movie before, like One Night in Miami's Regina King or Judas and the Black Messiah's Shaka King. It's a director search that could put Warners in direct competition with Marvel's upcoming Blade project, which is also eyeing major Black filmmaking talent for the director's chair.

The level of visibility on the project means the studio can also potentially go into unknown territory when it comes to looking for a star. Though Black Panther and Creed star Michael B. Jordan has been tied to potential Black Superman projects in the past, the actor said just last week that he's "just watching on this one," leaving the door open for an unknown actor to fill the suit much as Brandon Routh and Cristopher Reeve did with previous incarnations of the Man of Steel. 

With all that in mind, what about the story? While the DC Films team is working hard to develop a sense of multiversal synergy for its upcoming film and TV projects — using the dimension-hopping plot of The Flash as a kind of grand unifier — THR reports that Coates' Superman is at this point expected to stick to his own pocket universe, much like Matt Reeves' upcoming The Batman and its HBO Max spinoff series. That potentially leaves the door open for a different Superman in the DCEU while also allowing Coates and Abrams to go their own way with the story, but even with that in mind Coates is reportedly going for a kind of classic feel to his story.

The film is expected to be "in the vein of the original Superman comic," telling the story of an alien from Krypton making his way to Earth, and there's even talk of making it a 20th century period piece to drive that point home.

Of course, Coates has until December to deliver a draft, so some or most of this could change between now and then. The bigger picture of this report is clear, though: Warner Bros. knows they need to get this right, and they're aiming high.