Reginald Hudlin has worn many hats in his epic career. Whether directing genre favorites ‘House Party’ and ‘Boomerang’, spending time as the honcho at B.E.T., becoming a driving force behind one of Marvel Comics’ most unique properties, one thing is certain — Hudlin is a creative force who shows no signs of slowing down. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the writer/director to discuss his roots in the entertainment industry, the impact of his early work as a director, and breathing life back into one of Marvel Comics’ most interesting properties, ‘The Black Panther.’
Where did you grow up and how did you get started in your career in the entertainment industry?
I grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois, which is a small town in the mid-west. I started by making a short film in college called ‘House Party’. That film became the template for my first feature film. Even though I only did the first movie, it ended up inspiring a whole franchise of films. That led to me working with Eddie Murphy, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew Perry and wide range of other stars, projects and publishing.
Your first flick ‘House Party’ recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and ‘Boomerang’ is another film that you helmed. Did you have any idea that these films would have the impact that they did on audiences and stand the test of time?
I remember that I was talking to one of the producers of ‘House Party’. We were debating one of the roles and I said, “One day, people are going to look back at ‘Boomerang’ and they won’t be able to believe that all of these actors are in the same movie! They are all going to be big stars.” I remember that he looked at me like “Whhhhhaaattttt?” [laughs] That turned out to be exactly the case. They all turned out to be big stars! It is still incredibly gratifying to her the enthusiasm that people have about those movies, whether it is ‘House Party’ and people still wanting more of them or ‘Boomerang’ and people still asking for a sequel or the number of people who grew up watching ‘Bebe’s Kids’. It is pretty amazing!
After spending several years working in Hollywood behind the camera, how did you make the jump to creating comics?
You know, I went into movies because I couldn’t get a job in comics! I still have my rejection letter from Marvel Comics that I got in seventh grade! [laughs] I finally had made enough movies, film and television that I could get the attention of the comic book industry where I could write at a fraction of my price, happily!
For those not familiar with the character of Black Panther, what can you tell us about it?
The Black Panther is a lot of things. He is the first black superhero ever created, back in 1966. In fact, he actually debuted the same year as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland. Neither got the idea from the other, they both came up with the idea at the same time. The character himself is an African king of a hidden, technologically advanced nation called Wakanda. He is kind of a combination of king, pope and commander-in-chief. He is an incredible warrior, who is sorta the equivalent of Captain America. What Captain America is for your country, the epitome of the ideals of our nation, that is what The Black Panther is for Africa.
As you mentioned, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Black Panther in 1966. Are you surprised it took so long for people to rediscover the character in the capacity that you did?
Well, ya know, The Black Panther has always had a cult following. You see that a lot in comic books. Look at The X-Men, they actually got cancelled! [laughs] They couldn’t even sustain a book! The got reinvented and now they are one of the biggest superhero concepts on the planet! That happens! Stan and Jack had really fantastic ideas, most of them were ahead of their time. In time, each of them finds the audience that they deserve.
How did the Black Panther make the jump from a comic book to an animated series under your watch?
It was a very fortuitous set of circumstances! I was writing the comic book, originally I wrote a six issue mini-series that the people at Marvel liked enough that they wanted me to write as an ongoing series. Then I was offered the position to be the head of the network at BET. I was doing that job and Denys Cowan, he was my head of animation and a legend of an illustrator himself, suggested that we do The Black Panther as an animated series. I thought it was a great idea! We did a three minute short and the people at Marvel and BET loved it. At that point, we went forward with it as a series. By the time we were deep in production, I decided to leave my executive job but everyone wanted me to stay on-board Black Panther because I was writing it, producing it and kinda doing everything. I did and we finished up the show. It was one of those rare times where I wrote the source material, green-lit the project and then produced it!
You obviously are well versed in making feature films. How does the process of putting together something like the Black Panther Animated Series differ from a live action film? Is it more or less difficult?
It is more difficult because I am not as hands on. I have done animation in the past as the writer/producer of the ‘Bebe’s Kids’ feature film and as executive producer of ‘The Boondocks’. I love animation but as a director of a live-action project, I can easily tell an actor, “Stand here, now pick it up! No! Let’s change the timing of that!” and it happens instantaneously. Those very minute changes involve a lot of work when you are dealing with animation.
You have an amazing voice cast for the project. What can you tell us about that process?
I am so very fortunate. I thought that Djimon Hounsou would be the perfect guy to voice Black Panther. We approached him and I started pitching the character. He knew exactly who the character was and had been following the project and he immediately said yes. I called some old friends of mine like Alfre Woodard and Kerry Washington, who are two people that I have been wanting to work with for years. They signed on right away. Jill Scott, I was a huge fan of and we had mutual friends in common. When I approached her about the project and started explaining to her who the character was, she stopped me. She said, “When I was a little kid, I made a list of things that I wanted to do and one of them was to play Storm! So, I am happy that you called but I am not surprised!”
Music plays a very important role in The Black Panther, as it does in all of your projects. Was it difficult to get that music to match your vision?
I am really horribly demanding when it comes to music. I have a ton of ideas musically but the only instrument I can play is the stereo! [laughs] I really look for a great composer. I was very fortunate to find Steven James Taylor for the job. We hardly reused any music! He wrote a full score for every episode. So, if you think about that, it is like 20 minutes of music times six. He did it in an incredibly short time span. The music wasn’t approached like, “Oh, we are going to have a big symphonic score.” We have all kinds of African music and instruments going from drums to kolimbas to koras to berinbows. There is an incredible range of music and sounds used for the score. He had an incredible range of sounds to produce and a huge volume to produce but he handled it all with the greatest of ease.
What was the biggest challenge for you while working on The Black Panther, either in the comic book form or the animated series?
The biggest challenge is telling a story that is accessible to people who may have never picked up a comic book in their lives but at the same time, pleasing the hardcore fan that may have been following this character from the beginning or read the last version of the character and comes in with a set of expectations. That is the tricky part!
Are there any plans to do a second season of ‘The Black Panther’?
Ya know, that is up to the audience. If they embrace this, then we will do more!
You did a lot of great work when you were with Marvel Comics. Is there something during that time that stands out in your mind as a career highlight?
The first thing is, just going to have a meeting at Marvel! [laughs] It is pretty awesome! And to be immediately embraced by John Quesada and Axel Alonso, who is now Editor-In-Chief at Marvel. Just that working experience everyday was as good a working relationship as any that I have had in Hollywood. They were smart, tasteful and supportive. I was very insistent on working with John Romita Jr. on that first story arc. John is not just one of all the all-time great artists but he is really fast, technically brilliant and one of the nicest guys that I have ever met. Just becoming friends and having a working relationship with John was an absolute joy. Working with any number of great collaborators up to Denys Cowan, who I have been friends with for the past 15 years but only recently have we been able to work together on a comic book with the last story arc I did called ‘Flags of Our Fathers’, that was a joy to finally work on a comic book together.
What other projects do you have coming up in the short term that we should be on the lookout for?
There is a large graphic novel that I can’t quite announce yet that I am working on but it is 30 pages too long at moment. Hopefully, I can cut those pages out and get it finished soon. There are some original properties that I have been developing too. Those are probably the next things in the comic book world.
What is the best advice that you have for anyone who would like to get involved in the entertainment industry?
Talent is a thing that you can develop but the guy or gal that shows up on time and does the assignment often can go further than a person that is more talented but is flaky or lazy or difficult. Be a hard worker, a talented worker, be a dependable worker, whether you are an employee or a boss and you will go far.
You have a great website set up at www.hudlinentertainment.com. Would you like to let fans know more about that before I let you go?
I love you so much! [laughs] The website started because I wanted it to be a place where I could interact with fans about comic books. People want to interact about a lot of things whether it be comics, movies or politics. Then I started dealing with folks who were finding out about my comic book work but didn’t know where to buy it, so I started a retail side called Reggie’s World where people can buy my comics or Dwayne McDuffie or ‘War Machine’ or ‘Scalped’ and buy T-shirts or sculptures. One of the nicest things that I have heard when I have talked to retailers is when they say, “Reggie, I love when your books are in the stores because they attract a different audience than normal comes in to our store. We want to attract that diversified audience.” If through my website I can turn more people onto comic book culture, than I am very happy!
Awesome! I thank you very much for your time! You are a true inspiration and it is great to finally get a chance to talk to you about your work!
Thank you so much!