Meet the Marvel Executive Who First Championed 'Black Panther'
Nate Moore faced a dilemma in 2010 when advocating for the rule-breaking superhero film, but the Marvel Studios vp’s efforts resulted in a $1.3 billion-grossing Oscar contender: "If this didn't work, it becomes a reason to not make films like this."
In a risk-averse industry that relies on models of previous successes, Marvel Studios vp development and production Nate Moore faced a dilemma in 2010 when advocating for a big, bold Black Panther film. No one had ever made a $200 million movie with an almost entirely black cast.
"People go, 'Well, what's come before?' " says Moore, the only black producer in Marvel's film division. " 'It'll make roughly that, so we'll invest in that.' Because [tentpole movies with black casts] aren't getting made, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 'What are you modeling? You didn't release anything in China. Who knows if China likes black people or not?' "
When Black Panther went on to gross $1.3 billion at the global box office this year, more than $100 million of that from China, Moore and his colleagues disproved one of Hollywood's most damaging, untested rules — that international audiences would spurn such an offering. The stakes were high, Moore recalls: "If this film does not work, it will become a reason to not make films like this. Because, man, if Marvel, which opens movies with a raccoon and a tree, can't open Black Panther, hey, I guess these movies don't travel."
Moore, 40, grew up in the tiny agricultural community of Clovis, California, where he escaped the heat and tedium through movies and comic books. After studying communications at UCLA on a Jackie Robinson Foundation scholarship, he worked a series of film industry jobs, in the development department at Columbia Pictures, in international film sales at Exclusive Media and as director of development at Participant Media. When he joined Marvel in 2010, it meant adjusting some of his indie-world tastes to — and imprinting them on — the company's broad audience sensibility.
Moore began by overseeing Marvel's writers program, which matches characters from its comic books with screenwriters to develop potential projects. In 2010, he asked Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige about Black Panther. "Kevin actually was, even back then, very invested in doing something," Moore says. "We just didn't know what." It wasn't until working on 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier with directors Anthony and Joe Russo that Moore saw an opportunity. "We needed a character who could stand toe-to-toe with Iron Man and Captain America, and … in a very short amount of screen time, [have] people go, 'Let me pay attention to what this guy has to say.' " Moore texted Feige his pitch to introduce Black Panther in the movie, and got an OK; the Russos signed off immediately.
In 2013, Moore and screenwriter Joe Robert Cole watched director Ryan Coogler's feature debut, about Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African-American shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer in 2009. The movie, Fruitvale Station, was "such an intentionally emotional experience, I was like, 'Who is that filmmaker?' "
Moore went on to enlist Coogler to work with Cole on the Black Panther script. And the exec backed the director's expansive vision for the fictional nation of Wakanda, even as the budget increased from $150 million to $200 million because of the ambitious Afro-futurist sets by Hannah Beachler and costumes by Ruth E. Carter.
By not relying only on filmmakers who have handled similarly big-budgeted projects before, and hiring directors with indie film résumés like Coogler, Taika Waititi for Thor: Ragnarok and Chloe Zhao for The Eternals, Moore and Marvel have opened up these movies to a wider pool that includes more filmmakers of color. "Finding filmmakers who can get great performances out of actors is the toughest thing; sometimes the actors are against a bluescreen in crazy costumes with dots on their face," says Moore. "I can surround Ryan Coogler with a second unit director, VFX supervisor and DP, and I can give him the tools, but unless he knows how to execute the story and performance, we're sunk."
This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.