Black Panther just passed Titanic as the North American box office’s third top-grossing title of all time, but Samuel L. Jackson isn’t convinced that the movie represents the kind of landmark moment for African Americans in Hollywood that some critics have suggested.
“I’m not positive that Black Panther is going to change the dynamic of black stories being told in Hollywood and being accepted all over the world,” Jackson, 69, recently told Vogue.
For the actor, part of the problem lies with the film’s genre. “It’s an action-adventure story and a lot of people like those, and they’ll work all over the world forever because everybody loves a hero. But not everybody loves a drama about somebody’s life experience – that’s why awards have a separate category for foreign films; they are perceived as being different,” he explained. “Once we stop perceiving them as different and just see them as good films and they get recognized in the same category, we’ll be laying markers.”
The way African American characters are portrayed onscreen has always been important to Jackson, who’s currently starring in a sequel to 2000’s Shaft titled Son of Shaft. “When we started the film, the producers wanted to make an action comedy, and I told them that you can’t make John Shaft a comedic character,” he said.
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“He can be funny, but he has to be strong, dynamic, and charismatic in all the ways that he was because he is part of our mythology. Shaft is part of our black film anthology. He was a hero and one of the first people we saw to be that kind of a character,” Jackson added.
Still, the actor isn’t against portraying roles that fall into the comedy or action genre. In fact, 12 years after starring in Snakes on a Plane, he said he still can’t board a plane without people mentioning snakes. “No. I. Am. Not… But it’s fine,” he said, when asked if he can go to the airport without hearing references to the movie.
“A lot of people disparaged that film, although that’s exactly the kind of film I would have gone to see when I was a kid,” he added. “But people at security always ask, ‘You don’t have any snakes, do you?’ I’ve also had a pilot announce, ‘Everybody can feel safe today, if there are any snakes, Mr Jackson is with us.’ But it’s all fine. Some actors go through their whole career and nobody really remembers what they did, they just get people coming up to them saying, ‘Oh, you were in that movie’ and snapping their fingers, trying to remember what it was… but nobody forgets Snakes on a Plane!”