Arts & Entertainment

Why Mahershala Ali Will Make The Perfect Blade

Twenty years after the Wesley Snipes-fronted superhero film, the two time Academy Award-winner will bring the dark story to a new generation
IMAGE CASS BIRD
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While there have been many Batmen, Spider-Men and Supermen, until now there's only ever been one Blade. The character played by Wesley Snipes has remained in the pantheon of cool superheroes thanks to his vampire-slaying credentials and, now very on-trend, Nineties all black ensemble.

This weekend at San Diego Comic-Con, we saw the announcement of multiple forthcoming Marvel films, with big name additions to the MCU. Angelina Jolie and Richard Madden have joined the cast of The Eternals, and Natalie Portman was confirmed to play the female Thor in the Taika Waititi-directed Thor: Love and Thunder.

There was also the surprise announcement that Mahershala Ali?cover star for the relaunched Esquire in February?—had been cast as Blade in a 2021 remake of the Wesley Snipes film. Twenty years after the original, Ali will bring the human-vampire to a new generation, and is the perfect actor to do so.

Ali doesn't need to be on screen for long to get your attention. He did so first as the composed lobbyist Remy Danton on House of Cards, the perfect respite to the bluster of Frank Underwood, and a character whose pauses and glances were as loaded as anything he said.

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Ali as Remy Danton in Netflix series House of Cards

After leaving the Netflix series, he was cast in Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, the story of Chiron, a poor, black boy growing up with a drug-addicted mother in Miami, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture in 2017. He also walked away from the Dolby Theatre with a statue of his own, the Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of Juan, a drug dealer who serves as a father substitute for the boy.

Ali had relatively little screen time in the film, but one scene where he sits at the table with Chiron and carefully assuages his fears about his sexuality is evidence of the restraint and sensitivity Ali brings to a role. It was from there that he was cast in the third season of HBO's True Detectivea solid return to the form of the first—and as pianist Don Shirley in Green Book opposite Viggo Mortensen.

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After shooting the film, Ali told Esquire that he studied rare documentary footage of Shirley in order to "pick up on some of his rhythms, gestures and postures." It's this awareness of how a highly educated but persecuted black musician on a tour of Jim Crow Deep South might carry themselves that helped him vanish into the character. The role earned him another Best Supporting Actor Oscar, making him the seventh actor in history to win back-to-back Academy Awards, and the second black actor to win multiple acting Oscars.

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Shot by Cass Bird for British Esquire in 2019
Photo by CASS BIRD.

After his win, the actor called up the bosses at Marvel to discuss Blade, as the New York Times today reported. "Within 10 minutes, Ali asked what was happening with Blade and said he wanted to play him."

It will mark Ali's second Marvel role. The first was Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes in Netflix's Marvel series Luke Cage. Aside from the obvious financial incentives that come with joining the MCU, there's also a reason why Ali was so keen to play the iconic superhero.

When Blade was released in 1998 it stood apart from the other comic book films of the time, bringing a much darker energy and horror elements to the genre where audiences were used to seeing superhero films that were a blend of action and adventure.

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Wesley Snipes as Blade in the original 1998 film
Photo by MARVEL STUDIOS.

Blade became the first Marvel Comics character to have a successful big-budget film adaption and proved a turning point in Marvel's success. Featuring rapid-fire violence, sinister cinematography and a man hell-bent on his mission rather then reluctantly accepting a task, the film rewrote the rules of the kind of superhero stories we see.

Snipes performance was praised for balancing restraint and emotion without losing the sort of bad-ass humor that saw him deliver the line "Some motherf**kers are always trying to ice-skate uphill."

While it's unlikely to earn him his third Academy Award, a vampire-human hybrid on a mission to save humanity while pulling off a leather trench coat is exactly the sort of mould-breaking superhero Ali is perfect to play.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.ukMinor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Olivia Ovenden
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