"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Monday, September 17, 2007,6:00 PM
Who Is Reginald Hudlin?
Who Is Reginald Hudlin?

By Brandon Thomas

Reginald Hudlin is not just another “Hollywood” dude.

The accomplished writer/producer/director, and lifelong comics fan, is aiming to give the industry a revamped and revitalized Black Panther this winter. Riding shotgun and heavily stacking the odds in his favor, is fan-favorite artist John Romita, JR., offering yet another one of his bold visions for the Marvel Universe. The new age begins on February 2nd, and Hudlin was kind enough to stop by this week, and give Ambi. readers an essential primer for the new series, including shedding further light on his motivations for Black Panther and comics in general, and why only hot chicks can save the industry.

Let’s get started…


Brandon Thomas: What inspired you, and ultimately led you down the path to becoming a writer/producer/director?

Reginald Hudlin: I was lucky enough to have an older brother, Warrington, who was a successful independent director, this in the era before independent was even a term. They were called "underground" filmmakers. Anyway, he showed me you can tell your own stories your own way, and not ask for permission from Hollywood. I always wanted to make films in Hollywood, but that opportunity happened because of the efforts by my brother to build institutions like the Black Filmmaker Foundation, so independent filmmakers can build an audience for their work.

Thomas: What was the first independent film you ever finished, and what did you learn about the entire process of moviemaking from it?
Hudlin: The first feature film I made was House Party, which was financed by New Line Cinema, so I guess you can debate whether that is independent or not. Unless you're very wealthy, every filmmaker is dependent on somebody. Certainly, we made our own movie. I wrote it, directed it, my brother produced it, and with some scuffling, got final cut.

I learned everything. The difference between not having made a film, and making one is gigantic. But I learn a lot every time I make a film. It takes me years to understand what really went right or wrong with films I've made.

Thomas: At the risk of venturing into fanboy territory, my favorite project of yours is without question Boomerang. Can you say anything about that one in particular, and is there any one of your movies that looking back, really came together?

Hudlin: The two that fit that category are House Party and Boomerang. It's funny, because the production process for the two films was completely different. House Party was based on a short film I did in college, I wrote it myself, we had very little money, but I had rehearsed and storyboarded everything, so we were really organized. The studio pretty much left us alone.

Boomerang was a studio film based on an idea from Eddie Murphy, written by SNL guys he worked with a lot, but I ended up doing a lot of rewriting (with great improvisations from the amazing cast). The set was a lot more chaotic because stars will be stars, ‘nuff said. We had plenty of money, but a lot of studio pressure. But both films came out great. I'm proud of both.

Thomas: After spending several years working in Hollywood, what makes this the right time for Reginald Hudlin to be doing comics?

Hudlin: My first films were very successful, in part, because they were very personal films, but Hollywood pays the most for projects that interest you the least. Creative people are basically taxed for wanting to do something different, and I wanted to get back to doing projects that I wanted to do, regardless of how much they paid, which is how I became successful in first place. So, when Axel Alonso offered me the Black Panther, it was the right project at the right time.

Thomas: What's the biggest adjustment you've had to make from a creative or conceptual standpoint in writing for comics, in comparison to scripting movies?

Hudlin: The upside is no budget issues, no casting issues. The tradeoff is no music or sound effects. The big adjustment is thinking in panels, pages and issues, instead of shots, scenes and episodes (I say episode because an ongoing comic is more like a television show than a feature film). But it's basically the same. I've been reading comics since I could read, so it's not like I'm learning some weird new medium.

Thomas: In regards to the industry itself, it seems that comics are constantly facing an issue of legitimacy in the eyes of the "mainstream," and though this is gradually improving, the willingness of creators from other media to create comics has become a way to garner some much deserved attention to the entire industry. From someone who's worked in Hollywood for several years, how do you see comics as being perceived by your own Hollywood peers, and by people on the "outside" who don't quite realize the relevancy of modern comic books?

Hudlin: Several years ago, I was at dinner with several friends, and we realized that all of us were forced to work in film and television in Hollywood for a lot of money because we couldn't get a job in comics, for a fraction of the pay. So, I can testify firsthand there are definitely pockets of people in Hollywood who love and appreciate comics. Of course there are people here who don't like or "get" comics, but the numbers are growing in the other direction. After all, it's a town full of nerds who figured out how to be cool.

As for the general public's acceptance of comics, hey, the struggle continues. It all comes down to hot girls. If hot girls gravitate around a scene, then that scene is cool. Anything that repels hot girls is stigmatized. Girls may or may not like sports, but they "get" sports. You see hot girls singing along happily with the most misogynistic rap songs. But those same hot girls, by and large, don't get comics. The only area of the comics industry that seems to attract women, and attractive women at that, is manga.

For the sake of my daughter, and for the sake of lonely fanboys everywhere, I'd love to figure out how to make comics appeal to more women. Whether we need to make changes in content, or marketing, or both, we need to do it to grow the business. God bless the women who do read comics, but we need more.

Thomas: Definitely a good point, and something we could likely talk about all day, given the opportunity. So, let’s switch gears a little, and dig into your upcoming Black Panther re-launch. Do you remember the first Black Panther comic you ever read?

Hudlin: Sure, his debut in the Fantastic Four. My brother Warrington was a very thorough collector, and he would insist I wash my hands before I touched his books. Harsh, but now I understand.

Thomas: Your first storyline on the book is titled “Who is the Black Panther?” To you, who is the Black Panther?

Hudlin: He's an ideal. He's the product of history going right instead of wrong. He's a guy who doesn't have to fight the power, because he IS the power.

Thomas: It sounds like the Panther’s home country of Wakanda will almost become its own character, based on some of your previous commentary about it, and its obvious importance to the history of the character. Besides Wakanda, what are some of the other more relevant aspects of the Black Panther?

Hudlin: That's a very apt observation. Wakanda is indeed a character in itself to me. The mineral resources of Wakanda, namely Vibranium, have been long established, but it's not what you got, it's what you do with it. That's why I spend the whole first issue establishing Wakanda as a scientifically advanced warrior culture, and in subsequent issues you'll see their spiritual side as well. I want to show the mentality that created such a utopian environment.

Thomas: Is the crux of the initial storyline, T'Challa's battle to preserve Wakanda, in the face of an outside world that wants to know how and why this "utopia" has come about?

Hudlin: It would be nice if all the outside world wanted from Wakanda was information, but no, they don't really care about how and why Wakanda is such a lovely place. They just want the stuff. The technology. The petroleum. The Vibranium. The invasion is about greed, revenge and the fear of the unknown.

Thomas: Comics seem to be enjoying a train of thought that examines and comments on the acceptable use of power on a superhuman scale. Black Panther might have the most "authority" we've seen from a mainstream character in recent history. Will this be an aspect of your approach as well, that for all of T'Challa's remarkable qualities, he may also be incredibly dangerous to everybody else?

Hudlin: Sure, this is a theme beyond my initial two arcs, but it's an inevitable question the series will address. The Panther is a national leader on a continent in crisis. What should his response be? Wakanda has taken a very isolationist approach in the past, to keep them from turning into an imperialist power. But does that mean turning your back on people in need? And does really fixing the problem lead you into a world war?

Thomas: With a league of very passionate Priest fans that followed BP in its previous run, is there any pressure to preserve aspects from it, while still pushing things forward?

Hudlin: I'm a fan of Priest's run as well, so I will be availing myself of many of the great concepts he brought to the character during his run. You will see echoes of every era of the Panther in this book.

Thomas: What are some of your favorite Black Panther stories from other eras?

Hudlin: Hmmm...off the top of my head, his origin story, the issue of TALES OF SUSPENSE when he's fighting Cap, that McGregor issue that ended with him being thrown over a waterfall, the Kirby issue with him as the unknown opponent, and the reveal that he was spying on the Avengers. I could name more, but that would require digging in the crates.

Thomas: What kind of personal expectations are you bringing to Black Panther? Do you go into a project with a very clear mission statement of how you want the character left behind when you're done writing him?

Hudlin: My goal is to write the definitive Panther. I will write the book for as long as people want to read it, but I know that by the end of the second arc, the character will never be seen the same way again.

Thomas: Speaking of that second arc, as excited as I am about the first story, what I'm really looking forward to is the Black Panther/Cage "buddy movie" coming in the next storyline. What's going to make these guys the perfect, or maybe the "imperfect" duo?

Hudlin: Cage is that guy your wife does not want you hanging with. But he's your boy, he's that guy who's done it all, and can break down whatever you're going through with a refreshing cynical take on human nature. To Cage, The Black Panther is the one black leader that's the real deal. He's not on the take, he's not a punk, he really gets things done.

They are an odd couple that respects each other.

Thomas: On top of re-defining the Black Panther, you’re also taking on the writing chores for Marvel Knights Spider-Man. Millar's work on the book cast a greater light and focus on the rogues gallery of Peter Parker, along with presenting a darker, grimier side of Peter’s life as a superhero. Is this a thread you want to continue in your run, and if not, what will become your main focus on the book?

Hudlin: The great thing about it being Marvel Knights Spidey is that you can be edgier than you can in a straight up Marvel book, which fits in with my sensibility just fine.

Millar did a great job with the book. The only way to follow it is to go in a different direction. So, I did what any writer does when given a national treasure, you re-examine the core concepts of the character, and you figure out how to express that in an original way.

The core of the title is Peter Parker, a grown up Charlie Brown with superpowers, so my first arc will be driven by his personal problems, and how they end up affecting his life as Spider-Man.

Thomas: Rumor has it you’re introducing a somewhat familiar mild-mannered reporter into Peter's life. Is this an effort to make the Daily Bugle more of an integral part of the title?

Hudlin: Well, that's a byproduct of this particular storyline. I don't think of Spider-Man as a situation-based book. It's really all about the character of Peter Parker, and finding relatable situations for him as an everyman. It's all about pulling away the football, to make a Shultzian analogy. But one of the things I always loved about classic Spidey, I mean, going back to Stan Lee on the title, is a darkly comic sensibility. Things were always so bad for Peter they were funny. That's the vibe I want to capture in the book.

Thomas: That kind of "darkly comic sensibility" is what I thought really made the movies work on several levels, because they definitely portrayed a sense that Pete's life is so bad it just has to be funny. What do you think ultimately makes Peter Parker the character that you just HAVE to root for?

Hudlin: Because he's a completely relatable hero with feet of clay. He's a good guy who keeps getting screwed over by life, but won't stop doing the right thing. That's real world heroism.

Plus, he's got jokes. Who doesn't like the guy with jokes?

Thomas: I’d like to thank Reginald Hudlin for dropping by, and encourage everyone to give the new Black Panther series a good long look, when it hits store shelves in a couple weeks. Special thanks also to Marvel’s Axel Alonso, for providing the visual aid.

Back soon.

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,5:49 PM
James Brown & Al Sharpton interview
AMY GOODMAN: Our colleague here in the firehouse at DCTV, Jon Alpert, spent time interviewing Reverend Al Sharpton and James Brown, 25 years ago for a documentary about the music industry that he was working on at the time. Jon Alpert is a documentary filmmaker and the founder of Downtown Community Television. Welcome to Democracy Now!. Before we play this excerpt, Jon, of this interview that you did, can you give us some context for how you started to follow James Brown?

JON ALPERT: Well, I had never seen James Brown perform before, And my friend said, Jon, before you die, there’s one thing you have to do, you have to go see James Brown. So, I went up to Beacon Theater, and there were only 10 people in the audience. The theater was absolutely empty. James brown started to sing and he was fantastic, but in the middle of his concert he got on his knees like he does and he began to say folks, look around, the theater is empty, why? Am I bad? No, I’m the greatest man in show business. The mafia is freezing me out. They won't let anybody come to my concerts, I can’t get on the radio, I can't get into concert halls, I can’t be in the movies, I’m not on television. But I'm the great James Brown, “bump, bump, bump”, and he finished his song.
So, afterwards I went backstage, I mean, I was so intrigued by this. And, there he was sitting under one of those beehive hair dryers, next to Al Sharpton, under another beehive hair dryer. I’d never seen Al Sharpton before. And he told me this story, that he wanted to manage himself, he wanted to be independent, and that because he was independent, he was getting frozen out by the people in the corporations that controlled the music industry. And I was in the process of being blacklisted, myself, at that time by public television and I was really angry about this. And I thought, this is one of the greatest performers in the history of America, he's being frozen out too. So we started to make a documentary.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And you then ended up filming some more of his concerts, interviewing other people in the industry, and what happened to the documentary?

JON ALPERT: Well he said, you know, let's fight this, let’s fight it together. And so we began following him around as he tried to get himself on radio. Al Sharpton basically was the General, in this war to get James Brown back in front of the public. He really was a performer at the height of his powers, who was at the bottom of his career because he was being frozen out. And we traced what he was doing for about three weeks. And everywhere he went. When he went to eat. When he went to sleep. We followed him around.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're going to play a clip of the interview you did with James Brown and Al Sharpton.

JAMES BROWN: Ha ha ha ha ha! Tell them I’ll be back at the Apollo real soon.
FAN: We’ll see you in the movies brother!

JAMES BROWN: I love ya. Ha ha! Oh.

AL SHARPTON: You are like a live folk hero. I mean, it’s amazing you walk one block in Harlem, there’s a riot. And any DJ in New York, you got to almost build up advance tickets for a week for anybody to know who they are.

JAMES BROWN: That’s right.

AL SHARPTON: That’s Amazing. And the thing that you should see in the crowds is it’s young and old, there's no age thing. Everybody, from all generations knows James Brown. Know the music. People humming the tunes.

JON ALPERT: Well, how come we can't see him on TV or hear him on the radio.

JAMES BROWN: Well, you can be there's a certain thing as a man being too strong. And I think that's what has happened. Because the system, they can't dress me and undress me. I'm what the people want. I'll never sound like nobody else. Uh-uh. I ain't going to do that to myself. I’ll sound like myself. Even if you don't like me, it will be my fault, it won’t be because somebody else sound bad and I sound like them.

JON ALPERT: This is hard for me to understand right. If you come up there, people go crazy. Obviously you’re a very popular guy. Radio stations could make money if they played you. TV stations could make money if they put you on, the record companies if they promoted you. How come they’re not, they’re not playing?

AL SHARPTON: The people they got in the stations are not the people in the streets, that don't know. And what happens is when guys like you start putting us on the tube, the advertisers are going to see who the real people are. See, the people in the streets that have always bought the records are not the people that work in these companies. A lot people felt that they just hired people that was black, they were hiring people that knew. And that's not necessarily true.

JAMES BROWN: A lot of people that went to college and took up marketing, but didn't take up people. It's different when you know people.

JAMES BROWN: No reason for them kids to be out there doing bad when there are some blacks that don't want to do nothing for themselves. They got to all do something for themselves. Now, I cmme out of prison as a little juvenile delinquent and I’ve been up doing it ever since. And every time I get a chance I'm in the black community talking to the kids, I’m doing things. We got to. We these black businesses that are successful and they won't help the blacks? Lets put them out of business.

JON ALPERT: Tell us the story. What happened? And this is something that everybody might be interested in knowing about. You tried to become independent, what happened?

JAMES BROWN: The system crushed me.

JON ALPERT: Give me some examples.

JAMES BROWN: Well, no one, I couldn't get into television, I couldn’t get into movies. The record company was cutting my records up, and wouldn't promote ‘em, and wouldn’t even send ‘em out. Why did all the black-owned record companies fold? Why? Because they were forced out by the big ones. Every one. And not just the black owned ones, all the small--I think you got two independents right now. A good friend of mine, Henry Stone, in Miami, Tone Records, he's being forced out. He's a good friend of mine, you know, forced him out. And he's not black, he's jewish, but he's being forced out. Name an independent record company? You name one.

JON ALPERT: Is there one?

JAMES BROWN: That's what you’re saying, is there one? But when you were a little kid running around, James Brown. There was 300,000. There's not any now.

JON ALPERT: So if you're independent, you can't get records out?

JAMES BROWN: Not a one.

JON ALPERT: And how about if you’re independent, can you get on the radio?
JAMES BROWN: Independent, nada.

JON ALPERT: Let’s say you walked in with a tape?

JAMES BROWN: No. Never get it on. And this place plays so much local stuff, that’s another thing. They probably don’t play no local.

JON ALPERT: And how about TV? Could you get on TV?

JAMES BROWN: Totally out of the question. Try to record. Try me. Nobody would accept it. I cut it on a Coca-Cola crate, on a coca-cola crate and come here. At a radio station I recorded it. And so I come to New York and [inaudible] Studios on 49th and Broadway at that time. I recorded nine accetates that you play outside in. they’re played backwards then. You ever seen that before? Well, those records was there. Outside-in. Did you know, that, I took these records? The record company wouldn’t let me record no records. King Records said I didn’t have nothing else left. So I took the records and took them to radio stations myself, and they played them. And the demand became great.

AL SHARPTON: Never been a leading black figure in no walk of life in this country that knew the business that they was the doing except him.

JAMES BROWN: They never let ‘em learn the business. And I learned it because I paid my way. When I made a mistake, I went back and next time I knew what it was and I didn’t do that no more. I'd have 15,000 people in the building—excuse me sir,-- I’d have 15,000 people in the building and I’d say you know, I could have 20,000 here. Everybody’d be happy with that, I'd be happy, but I'm not worried about what I did right. I'm worried about what I didn't do right and what I could have done. It's about what you can do better. Like, it’s not what you what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.

AL SHARPTON: The problem with James Brown getting played on a radio station like WBLS in New York is—we talked to ‘em the other day, getting ready for your South Africa tour. They said the problem with South Africa is not the whites or blacks. It's the coloreds. That’s the problem in the United States. It’s the coloreds. It’s the colored men. They are ashamed of being black. And James Brown brings it all to the surface. So only N----s run, the only N----s run, when a James Brown records on, is N----s thats really ashamed of being black. Cause you either got to be black or white when James Brown’s singing. You gotta be what you are. The only people that can’t take a James Brown record is unnatural people, cause they ashamed of what they are.

JAMES BROWN: Their color.

AL SHARPTON: That’s right. And all them N----s over there is ashamed of what they are so they try to act like they something else, so they try not to play what they really are, and hope nobody will notice what they are. And they don't realize the people they are trying to be like dig what they are in the first place.

AL SHARPTON: The struggle right now is the struggle its always been. It's just that now people are telling the truth about it. The struggle is against what's wrong. It's not black or white. Like Mr. Brown said, it's wrong.

JAMES BROWN: That’s right.

AL SHARPTON: The struggle is against wrong. Black people get free, we admit that blacks can be a problem too. I mean it was blacks that sold us to white folks in the first place. But until I deal with the seller and sellee, I'm going to be sold. [laughter]

I mean, if you look at black history or American history, the last 20 years, you had the Kennedy’s, you had the Martin Luther Kings, you had James Brown. You had this, you had that. And out of all that James Brown’s the only thing still here. And everybody ought to be, I mean, what does a man have is to die before he gets his respect? I mean it's crazy. If something god forbid would happen to James Brown, they’d be selling them at every hot dog stand in New York. And here he is and they won’t play him on WBLS. So I mean a man almost has to become a martyr to get appreciated in this country. And there’s something wrong with the people that build the dead and bury the living. I mean it's crazy.
JAMES BROWN: When are we, as a people, going to recognize that we have a duty to ourselves, you know? When are we going to put our own pants on? When are we going to be the one to set an example for our kids? I'm not saying all of the whole race of people don't do it. Whether it's Black or Latin, or Oriental, or what, I'm not saying that. I'm saying when do we, as black people, which I'm very much aware of, start doing something massively for ourselves. I don't care what people say, I must respect the Jewish people. I must respect their--

AL SHARPTON: That's the model we must emulate? The Jewish model.

JAMES BROWN: Well, I respect the Jewish people, I respect the Italians. I respect the Germans, I respect all the people. I respect anybody that stay where they at. And that’s the difference. And you got to respect the Oriental people, cause they really come from behind. See so, I respect these people.

AMY GOODMAN: James Brown and Reverend Al Sharpton at The Plaza Hotel in New York City being interviewed by Jon Alpert more than a quarter of a century ago. Jon Alpert, the filmmaker who was doing this documentary on race, and the music industry, and the mob. Jon, why did it never get done?

JON ALPERT: It didn't get done because about three weeks into the filming, James signed a very lucrative contract, and he decided that maybe he'd rather play along with the folks, and put some money in his pocket than fight it, because he was really getting frozen out. I mean, you just never heard him on the radio in those days. It was astonishing, because when I grew up, I was a little bit before your time, he just electrified our high school. And he was the guy that set the cultural tone. Everybody thinks it was the Beatles. It wasn’t the Beatles, it was James Brown, and every single black kid in our high school was transformed by his music and by the message.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And as I mentioned in my column, The Daily News told, tell the story about what happened with you and in the end, I guess James Brown chose, the godfather of soul chose not to challenge the godfathers of crime, especially in the music industry. But who above us, 25 years later could say he made the wrong decision? Because at least the music that so many of us appreciated of his was able to get out, and who knows what might have happened if he hadn’t made that challenge at the time and made the great film you were hoping that you were hoping to make?

JON ALPERT: We might never have heard from him again except probably when he died, and we would have venerated him like we’re doing now. And really its affected everybody in a way. What the folks at home don't know is that everyday after the show Amy does the full James Brown split. It's amazing. And you know what she does, come on. Do the mike throw Amy. I mean, she really does it. And who -- [laughter]

AMY GOODMAN: You’re confusing me with Juan Jon.

JON ALPERT: No, Juan does it during the breaks. And, you know, who hasn't imitated James Brown at some time or another? Tried to do the dance and things like that. I mean, come on.

AMY GOODMAN: I’ll tell you, yesterday in Harlem it was happening. Yesterday in Harlem outside Bobby's Records, all along the street, the pride--the just, the thousands of people who lined up at the Apollo. He started there, right, in 1956? And they said he came home. And pride was the word over and over again used. Juan we’ll link to your column. Final words? Since people will never see or perhaps someone will pick up this documentary you eventually do on James Brown, just filming the concerts that you filmed with James Brown and we'll end more with a song.

JON ALPERT: It's amazing to see these songs that had really become part of everybody’s own personal culture. Seeing them performed and just seeing the uniqueness that made James Brown who he was. All over the world people were transformed by him. When I told my friends I was going to be on TV, we have--you have fans all over the world just like James Brown has. It's hard to believe that Amy's as big as James Brown in some places, but I know in Havana, people are watching today. When I said we were gonna show James Brown, people from the presidential office are watching. I know there are people in Moscow watching today.

It was just amazing, to get to be there. But to know that he could be frozen out, that because he wasn't giving the mafia the split they wanted, he was finished. And to some degree, whether it's the mafia or big corporations that same kind of control continues. That's why your independent, that’s why I’m independent. But it is tough.

AMY GOODMAN: Jon Alpert thanks so much for being with us, and agreeing to air this never before broadcast interview that you did in 1980.

JON ALPERT: We were just kids then. Wasn't that great?

AMY GOODMAN: At the Plaza Hotel and also walking with -- going in the car with Sharpton and Brown as you drove through Harlem, as they were talking at the beginning

JON ALPERT: It was amazing. It was like riding around with a deity. And, people when they saw him, you know they almost bowed down. You know, I've been with Kings and Queens before. That's what it was like.

AMY GOODMAN: Last night when I was talking people like Amin on the streets, selling buttons, and other people, they were saying the last time Harlem felt like this was when Nelson Mandela was in town. This is democracy now!. We'll go back to a clip.

JON ALPERT: Come one do it. Just once for the audience. Come on do the throw.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll go back to a clip. Juan do what you always do.

JON ALPERT: During the break Amy will be doing the full James Brown split. You just won't see it at home.

AMY GOODMAN: We'll just show you James Brown. Which is what you want to see. This is James Brown in concert


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