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By Brian Abrams
I’ll admit it: I’m pathetically extreme for the 1990s. So, when news hit in April that Wesley Snipes, who has been in prison since December 2010 for tax evasion, had been transferred from a federal penitentiary to an undisclosed home confinement residence in preparation for his July 19th release, I started nailing batting gloves above the headboard in my bedroom. You know, to honor the comeback of Willie Mays Hayes.
Wesley Snipes is out of prison—now what?
It’s been exciting to anticipate the return of that familiar face that rocked yesteryear in inner-city classics such as Ron Shelton’s “White Men Can’t Jump,” Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” and Mario Van Peebles’s “New Jack City,” expecting that he might bring that superfly machismo along with him. But as much as some of us are dying to see Snipes hop back onto the screen, his primary motivation probably isn’t derived from the fans: He has a wife and five kids to think about. Plus, possible balloon interest payments on a refinanced $1.6 million mansion in Alpine, New Jersey.
Whatever his reasons may be, now that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has released inmate #43355-018, with one year of probationary supervision, we might have the good fortune of witnessing the 50-year-old once again put on one hell of a hitting display.
The Daily Beast’s Allison Samuels isn’t nearly as optimistic about our leading man’s rebound to stardom. In her June 7 story, “Out of Jail, Does Wesley Snipes Have a Second Act?,” Samuels examines Nino Brown’s problems competing in a 2013 Hollywood as well as how badly the star left things, circa-2010, before prison — specifically with regards to his dickishness toward industry insiders and self-destructiveness in terms of PR.
In 2003, his ill behavior on the set of “Blade: Trinity” in which Snipes “would only communicate with [director David Goyer] via Post-it notes that he would sign with the name ‘Blade.’” This escalated into Snipes’s filing a lawsuit in 2005 against New Line Cinema and Goyer for being squeezed out of creative control as well as not being paid enough money.
Alienating himself from those who assisted in his ascension to stardom, e.g., firing his longtime manager Dolores Robinson after he climbed a couple rungs.
In 1997, Snipes gave a series of interviews to urban mags like Ebony in which he put down black women and shared his fetish for Asians — later describing them in a 2006 King Magazine interview as his “bedroom generals.” As a result, he pissed off a major block of his moviegoing audience.
His name doesn’t carry the same weight on the marquee and in the blogosphere as other black leading men. Samuels references Idris Elba (“The Wire”) as his modern-day counterpart. “A young audience of moviegoers don’t know who Wesley Snipes is,” said NYU film professor Daniel Bogle. “He’ll need to somehow transition into more of a character actor at this point, which can be difficult to do.”
whitemencantjump Wesley Snipes is out of prison—now what?
No doubt about it that Snipes went the way of the douchebag during the apex of his career. In the aforementioned King Mag interview, Snipes described the mid-90s moment in which he decided to abandon art films and melodrama for action hero status after discovering the royal treatment that Sylvester Stallone receives overseas. Trapped on a congested highway in Thailand one afternoon, Snipes told himself “action movies are the move” because he had heard Sly travels with a police motorcade. Essentially, he bailed on a shot at Oscar nods in exchange for residuals from mediocre shoot-em-ups, some relegated to straight-to-DVD release. Thus half of the entries on Snipes’s IMDb page from 1997 to present day are unrecognizable.
But one thing on which Samuels’ story does not speculate is whether or not Snipes has had any sort of humbling experience on the inside. Hey, fingers crossed, but that doesn’t sound like the case to me. In 2012, Spike Lee paid a visit to his “Jungle Fever” and “Mo’ Better Blues” star for two hours and told his Twitter followers that Snipes looked ripped — in “‘Blade’-shape” — and that they “talked about” a collaboration when the orange jumpsuit comes off.
“He said when he gets out,” Lee said, “‘It’s on.’”
Fast-forward to April 2013, when Stallone squeezed out a tweet on Tax Day confirming Snipes for “The Expendables 3.” The ensemble role is hardly telling of the ex-con’s future. After all, the whole point of the “Expendables” franchise is to reminisce over washed up action stars. But what out-of-work actor wouldn’t love to have Sly and Spike in his corner right now? In a post about the impending doom that the current blockbuster-saturated industry faces, blogger Vince Mancini may have shined a light on a vulnerable area in which a blast from the past like Snipes might be able to penetrate:
Studio execs don’t have the kind of job security that allows for making moderate profits off a series of smaller films. Everything has to be NOW, huge short-term profits that you only get from big blockbuster movies. Which is fine in the short term, but over time, it narrows peoples’ idea of what a movie can be at a time when that desperately needs to be expanded. There can be more to movies than (NUMBER) Fast (NUMBER) Furious. They’re competing for a smaller and smaller audience (the people who show up to the big tentpoles) at a time when they need to be bringing in a new audience members (the people who don’t). The kinds of movies they’re making, they aren’t creating the new movie fans that they need for the medium to stay relevant.
But here’s the thing: If Snipes comes out just as arrogant as before, even without the recognizability of an Idris Elba, he may still be capable of wrangling audience members who have been indifferent to the modern blockbuster, and yet, hungry for ’90s nostalgia. Moviegoers who otherwise wouldn’t have bought a “Pacific Rim” or “Fast & Furious 6″ ticket for $14.50. Hardcore moviegoers of the past, like his Asian bedroom generals’ fan club. And me.