“Wesley Snipes behaved like a real weirdo on the set of Blade: Trinity” is a piece of trivia that has lodged into my brain as objective fact. The third film in the trilogy of 2000s gothic-horror-superhero fever dreams returned Snipes to his title role of superstardom, a vampire hunter who himself is part vampire; a Daywalker, if you will. But instead of enthusiasm, financial success, or eventual cult appreciation, which happened to the first two films, Blade: Trinity was met with derision, made less money than its predecessor, and came out with drama embedded into its backstory. Snipes was a nightmare to work with! He refused to come to set! He tried to strangle his director! Is all of this true?
Well, I certainly thought it was, probably because it was just a fun story to me. But to Snipes, who recently gave an interview to The Guardian pegged to his recent comeback performances in Eddie Murphy comedies Dolemite Is My Name and Coming 2 America, it was the tarnishing of a life already going through perils, including a stint in prison for tax evasion, charges Snipes calls trumped up and besieged by racism. In fact, Snipes frames this story surrounding Blade: Trinity as being besieged by racism, too, and it’s not hard to see his point.
The main source of accusations, of story-establishing, seems to be from a separate AV Club interview with Patton Oswalt, who plays “Hedges” in Blade: Trinity (and is, as Snipes put it sarcastically, “a reliable authority on me”). In this interview, Oswalt said that Snipes tried to strangle his director, David S. Goyer, during production. Snipes’ response? “Let me tell you one thing. If I had tried to strangle David Goyer, you probably wouldn’t be talking to me now. A Black guy with muscles strangling the director of a movie is going to jail, I guarantee you.” In fact, Snipes had authority over the choice of director in the first place: “I remind you that I was one of the executive producers of the project. I had contractual director approval. I was not just the actor for hire. I had authority to say, to dictate, to decide. This was a hard concept for a lot of people to wrap their heads around.”
As for more of Oswalt’s charges, including that Snipes refused to talk to his co-stars or crew, instead opting for communicating through Post-It Notes? Snipes laid it all out, bare:
“This is part of the challenges that we as African-Americans face here in America – these microaggressions. The presumption that one white guy can make a statement and that statement stands as true! Why would people believe his version is true? Because they are predisposed to believing the Black guy is always the problem. And all it takes is one person, Mr. Oswalt, who I really don’t know. I can barely remember him on the set, but it’s fascinating that his statement alone was enough to make people go: ‘Yeah, you know Snipes has got a problem.’”
I’m not writing this up to fully say Snipes is right and Oswalt is wrong, or vice versa. Instead, I’m reckoning with my own personal biases in real time, my desire to believe a salacious Hollywood story over Snipes’ desire to succeed while being Black in America, our nation’s compulsive need to value white feelings over Black ones. It’s a conversation worth having, and re-having, and I’m grateful Snipes is here to keep stoking these necessary flames.