Jordan Peele, Universal’s Donna Langley Weigh In on Marvel Debate

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Jordan Peele and Donna Langley

The back-and-forth about the artistic value of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — which even prompted a response from Walt Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger — has dominated the internet for the better part of a month.

Jordan Peele and Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Donna Langley are the latest Hollywood figures to lend their voices to the ongoing conversation about what constitutes cinema, which was sparked by Martin Scorsese's insistence that Marvel films do not and instead more closely resemble theme parks.

“I’m not particularly engaged in the ‘What is cinema, what isn’t cinema?’ conversation,” Peele said Wednesday in response to a moderator’s question about the debate at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York City. “My definition of film and what my movie experience is, is movies that you can go and have a theatrical experience, a shared experience with the audience [and] go through emotions: cheers, tears, laughs.”

The actor and filmmaker continued: "Those are the movies I’m trying to make, quite frankly. I’m very focused on something that you need to go out to the theater to see while it’s out there because it’s something different."

The problem with this desire for a shared experience, Peele explained, is the availability for non-blockbuster films at theaters, along with a lack of theaters themselves. 

"It's very different from this streaming boom, or whatever you want to call it," he added.

Ultimately, though, Peele just wants to "see more original material in the theater" — a sentiment that Langley said she shared when prompted with a question about consolidation within the film industry and the tendency for studios to favor franchises. Rather than dismissing the value of the latter — Universal is, after all, home to the Fast and the Furious film series — she pointed to older franchises like Star Wars and Jaws, which were "made by really auteur filmmakers with vision on a grand scale."

Today, "auteurs" helming big franchises are "few and far between," said the exec, with the exception of directors like Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg.

"There’s become this over-reliance on IP, intellectual property, which is why we’re seeing Marvel do as well as it is. It’s a treasure trove of mythology and characters," Langley added. "Universal doesn’t have that. Every franchise that we do, we have built really from nothing. Fast and Furious is on its ninth movie, it started with a magazine article. Jurassic was one book, and each movie, each time, is an original story."

The rest of Langley and Peele's conversation was devoted to the dissection of the relationship between a creative and a studio. The two have worked together for years, and just last month Peele signed a production pact with Universal. Upon announcing the deal — which will see all of Peele’s films released through the studio for the next five years — Langley herself described the Oscar-winning creative behind Monkeypaw Productions as "a premier voice and original storyteller with global appeal."