On The Eve Of Black Panther, Let’s Give Blade Some Credit

As the world celebrates a proudly black superhero getting his own cinema, you are able hear some fans softly muttering, “Wait, didn’t Blade do that like 20 years before Black Panther ? ” And then there’s an even smaller, weirder group of people saying, “And what about Meteor Man ? ” But this is about Blade , and what it says about where the world is now versus 1998.( Spoiler: What it says is mainly bad .)

First, remember the context. Back in 1998, we still didn’t know if superhero movies truly operated. Sure, we’d ensure success with Batman and Superman , but both of those series had fallen into wearines before they could get through even three enterings. We still hadn’t get the boom period that started with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man .( Yes, I know that X-Men came before it, but I ever felt like Spider-Man unapologetically embraced the comic book aesthetic, while X-Men was still apologizing for it .)

And then along came Blade . It was a bloody, R-rated superhero movie( long before Deadpool and Logan would be celebrated as trailblazers) featuring a black lead-in , not to mention a black lady costar( the movie signals this is leading to a romance, but the pair wind up in a partnership of strong, reciprocal respect ). And Blade , under its layers of rad trench coats and vampire raves, has route more to say on the subject of race than you’d think.

Blade is a black vampire in a world dominated by pasty white bloodsuckers who sit around a big table and secretly control everything. But the movie doesn’t do that thing where they use supernatural beasts as a metaphor for some minority( hello, Bright ). Blade isn’t symbolically anything; in that world, he’s actually a vampire and he’s actually black. The latter means the same thing in that world as it does in ours. He is fighting a power structure that fears him, dislikes him, and has forced him into the life he lives. Yet he’s supremely confident. The first time he shows up in a club of EDM Nosferatus, the entire crowd crouches and slithers and sneaks, while Blade does none of those things. He is direct and he is awesome, and that is scaring to them.

At one point, Karen Jenson( played N’Bushe Wright ), is attacked by a policeman who, guess what, turns out to be a dupe for the vampire power structure. Blade proceeds to smack the guy around and demand information — a scene that, if included in a blockbuster today, would probably draw two-dozen enraged tweets from the president. Does Blade say that all police are corrupted? No, the script is smarter than that. That individual bad policeman is portrayed as a cog, someone virtually pathetically caught up in a greater system. These are themes you would not expect to come up in a Wesley Snipes movie about a kung-fu vampire .

The franchise never backs down from it, either. In Blade II , he’s partnered with the Blood Pack, a group of assassins who have invested times training to hunting Blade, but who now must reluctantly work with him. Within seconds of gratifying them, Ron Perlman’s bald, tattooed character Reinhardt asks, “Can you blush? ” If that sounds like a nonsense question to you, congratulations on not being intimately familiar with racist pseudoscience( white people, they say, are the only race capable of redden, and therefore are the only race capable of feeling disgrace ).

Blade responds by smacking Reinhardt twice in the face, then affixing an explosive to the back of his head and telling him that he’ll use it if Reinhardt acts up again. That’s the two-act structure to every Blade scene: 1) Some motherfucker tries to ice skate uphill. 2) Blade handles it.

When Blade does gain more allies in( the exhaustively mediocre) Blade: Trinity , he’s quick to point out that his conflict is no longer an gag. Ryan Reynolds, showing up here long before Hollywood thought of him as superhero movie substance, wears a “Hello, My Name Is” sticker with the words “FUCK YOU” written on it. To that, Blade responds, “You think this is a fucking sitcom? ” First of all, I’d really like to know what sitcoms Blade watches. Second, it illustrates that if you want to be an ally, you have to be ready to take it severely. Approaching it with ironic patrol is a slap in the face.

Yet despite all of this, you didn’t learn the mainstream press heralding Blade as certain kinds of bold peril. Even the positive reviews were based around statements like “What is unusual about the cinema is the way it combines high-tech violence with the more up-close-and-personal violence of vampires”( yep, you really nailed it, Gene Siskel, and may God rest your soul ). The negative reviews spouted shit like “Filter out the gloss, the gore and the insistent techno rating, and all you’re left with are the gleaming pecs and bulging biceps of Wesley Snipes as Buff The Vampire Slayer . ” You get the sense that 20 years ago, an R-rated, wide-release movie in which a black Marvel superhero thumps the shit out of a white policeman was deemed boring .

Which would almost imply that we’ve gone backward since then, that Black Panther feels like a trailblazer because it does indeed have to re-blaze the trail. Blade came along at the tail end of the Clinton times, a year before the box office “wouldve been” dominated by parables about mediocre white males having a crisis of identity (< i> American Beauty , Fight Club , The Matrix ). Since then we’ve read regression , not only in terms of race relations but also in what kind of risks movies like this were willing to take. Twenty years later, a movie like Black Panther ( and a prove like Luke Cage , while we’re at it) feels like a bold slap in the face to the Trump Era.

I’m not trying to take anything away from either of those. I’m just saying that two decades earlier, there was a Marvel superhero movie that featured goddamned Mobb Deep on the soundtrack.

Daniel has a Twitter. Move to it. Enjoy yourself. Kick your boots off and remain for a while .

Real talk the whole Blade soundtrack is pretty murderer. Dig in .

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