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Addressing the Criticisms Pertaining to WB's Decision to Shelve Ava DuVernay's 'New Gods' and James Wan's 'The Trench'

By Brian Richards | DC Movies | April 2, 2021 |

By Brian Richards | DC Movies | April 2, 2021 |


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In March of 2018, it was announced by Warner Bros. that Ava DuVernay, director of Selma, A Wrinkle In Time, 13th, When They See Us, and who also adapted for television the critically acclaimed series Queen Sugar, was hired to direct the film New Gods, as well as co-write its screenplay with Eisner-winning writer Tom King. Based on the DC comic-book series created by legendary writer/artist Jack “The King” Kirby, New Gods was to focus on the war between two planets, the idyllic, unspoiled, and sunlit New Genesis, and the nightmarish, dismal, and polluted Apokolips, as well as the incredibly powerful gods who reside in both locations, such as the Highfather (ruler of New Genesis), Big Barda, Mister Miracle, Granny Goodness, The Furies, Orion, DeSaad, Steppenwolf, and Darkseid (ruler of Apokolips who, along with Steppenwolf and DeSaad and Granny Goodness, were seen in Zack Snyder’s Justice League).

One of the first things Ava did when the news of her directing New Gods was to head on over to Twitter and pay tribute to its creator, Jack Kirby himself.

In February of 2019, it was announced that The Trench, a horror-themed spin-off of Aquaman, had gotten the green light and was set to be written by up-and-coming screenwriters Noah Gardner and Aidan Fitzgerald, but not directed by James Wan, who directed Aquaman. It would not include any of the main cast members from the original film, but would instead be entirely focused on the creatures of The Trench, one of the kingdoms of Atlantis inhabited by vicious and cannibalistic creatures willing and able to kill and devour anything that crosses their paths. They were briefly seen in Aquaman, attacking the small ship carrying Arthur and Mera (Jason Momoa, Amber Heard) as the two of them fend off the creatures and dive to safety in order to escape their grasp.

Yesterday, Warner Bros. broke the news that neither of these films would actually see the light of day and go into production, as both New Gods and The Trench were officially shelved. From The Hollywood Reporter and their exclusive report:

“As part of our DC slate, some legacy development titles including New Gods and The Trench will not be moving forward,” Warner Bros. and DC said in a statement. “We thank our partners Ava DuVernay, Tom King, James Wan and Peter Safran for their time and collaboration during this process and look forward to our continued partnership with them on other DC stories. The projects will remain in their skillful hands if they were to move forward in the future.”

The projects are being shelved but like many comic characters, could come to life down the road. DC Films, led by president Walter Hamada, is leaving the door open to revisit these properties in the future, but insiders note that when it became clear the upcoming DC slate did not have a natural spot for New Gods or The Trench over the next few years, execs believed it was best not to leave the filmmakers hanging in development without a clear end in sight.

DC is currently building an interconnected slate in which projects will feed in and out of the big screen and the small, with films such as James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (Aug. 6) spinning off into the John Cena-led HBO Max series Peacemaker, and Matt Reeves’ The Batman (March 4, 2022) spawning its own Gotham-police-department-focused show.

With The Trench, sources say that the upcoming Aquaman sequel was considered enough, but Warners could come back to it down the line if there is thirst for more adventures set in the Atlantean kingdoms. It was also considered a possibility for streaming, but is more of a stand-alone story rather than having a strong tie-in to Aquaman or the rest of the DC universe.

New Gods, which would have been a sprawling tale, was complicated by the fact that its villain, Darkseid, just appeared as a major foil in Zack Snyder’s Justice League and there was a desire to have space between the latter and any new appearances.

For most DCEU fans, the news of both films being cancelled wasn’t much of a surprise, as there wasn’t any further news about The Trench after its development was originally announced, and Ava seemed to spend less time working on New Gods and more time working on and developing other projects such as Colin In Black And White, a scripted series about the early life of football player Colin Kaepernick, the romance anthology series Cherish the Day, an adaptation of the Vertigo comic-book series DMZ set to air on HBO Max, and the Netflix film The White Tiger, of which she was an executive producer. When asked on Twitter over the last couple of years as to how the development of New Gods was coming along and when actual news of the film could be expected to drop, she would mostly give positive but vague responses. One of Ava’s supporters when it came to her directing New Gods was none other than actor Ray Porter, who played Darkseid in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and who many fans were hoping would continue playing the role in New Gods and not be replaced by another actor. Despite the many times that Ava had to deal with fans politely and not so politely insisting that her vision when making New Gods should match that of Zack Snyder’s and his own vision with the Snyder Cut of Justice League, and not be a violation of continuity between their films, Ray was insistent on Ava being shown some respect and left alone to do her work, regardless of whether or not the two would work together on New Gods.

Unfortunately, not too long after that exchange, the news was dropped that New Gods wouldn’t be going forward.

Despite the news of both upcoming projects ending up in Development Hell, both DuVernay and Wan are still in business with Warner Bros. and DC. Wan is directing Aquaman 2, and DuVernay is developing the series Naomi for The CW, which is based on the comic-book series of the same name created by writers Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker, and illustrator Jamal Campbell.

Even though this news wasn’t entirely surprising, it was no less upsetting for many people, especially those in the DCEU fandom. There were those who saw this as one more reason to ask what the hell is up with Warner Bros. and what exactly is the plan they claim to have when it comes to the future of the DCEU. There were those who were pissed off about Zack Snyder being permitted to complete his four-hour-long version of Justice League and getting an extra $70 million to do so (most of it going to visual effects and to the technicians completing them for the film), but a Black woman like Ava DuVernay and an Asian man like James Wan weren’t given the same leeway to make their own films. Who felt the same way about two White male directors like James Gunn and Matt Reeves getting full creative control by Warner Bros. to not only make their films for DC, but also get the green light for television spin-offs before said films even open in theaters. Who felt that maybe Snyder and his cut of Justice League was to blame for New Gods and The Trench getting shelved, that its existence and its budget contributed to the studio’s decision, that Warner Bros. didn’t want to deal with the expected uproar from the fandom if New Gods was different in any way from what fans saw and liked in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, that maybe in order for the SnyderVerse to be restored and for him to continue making films in the DCEU, WB had to choose between Snyder and between DuVernay/Wan, and Warner Bros. went with Snyder instead.

Of course, there were also some people in the DCEU fandom who were very happy with the news that New Gods was shelved by Warner Bros. and that DuVernay would no longer be in a position to direct this film for the DCEU. Some of them feel this way because they think she’s an outspoken racist (yes, really), because she’s quick with the Block button on Twitter if and when she feels that she or her work is being disrespected by people with no Act-Right, because of how A Wrinkle In Time turned out and how the quality of that film is proof that she can’t handle making a genre film like New Gods, and because they feel that she would’ve done everything possible to contradict and ignore Snyder’s work on Justice League and his portrayal of Darkseid by doing her own thing instead.

In regards to Snyder and his version of Justice League possibly contributing to New Gods and The Trench not going any further, this portion of the article from The Hollywood Reporter

New Gods, which would have been a sprawling tale, was complicated by the fact that its villain, Darkseid, just appeared as a major foil in Zack Snyder’s Justice League and there was a desire to have space between the latter and any new appearances.

…only added fuel to the fire, as some fans saw it as Warner Bros. and/or The Hollywood Reporter attempting to blame Zack Snyder’s Justice League and its inclusion of Darkseid for New Gods failing to launch, despite the fact that an entire Multiverse exists for DC in which there are multiple alternate Earths with different versions of DC heroes and villains (one Earth can have Ben Affleck’s version of Batman/Bruce Wayne with Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth, another Earth can have Robert Pattinson’s version of Batman/Bruce Wayne with Andy Serkis as Alfred Pennyworth) that allow many different kinds of stories to be told. If audiences are smart enough to handle numerous versions of Batman and The Joker onscreen, then there’s no reason why two different films featuring Darkseid (of which there is only one version in the entire Multiverse) would be too much for audiences and for Warner Bros. to handle.

It was also pointed out by other fans that Zack Snyder’s Justice League being held responsible for the two films being canceled made little to no sense. Mainly because Warner Bros. had gone out of its way to state that the film is non-canon, is a storytelling cul-de-sac that does not lead to any other stories being told in the DCEU, and is entirely its own thing when it comes to the rest of the DCEU and its continuity, as opposed to Joss Whedon’s theatrical version of Justice League which is considered to be canon by Warner Bros., and that there’s no reason why a non-canon film like The Snyder Cut should affect the survival of a film like New Gods or its portrayal of Darkseid. They also pointed out that instead of blaming Snyder and his film for what happened to DuVernay and Wan, the blame should be applied to Warner Bros. themselves, as this is yet another example of the studio’s racist and problematic behavior towards its non-White talent in the DCEU, and that AT&T needs to clean house and hire new people to run Warner Bros. if the DCEU is to have any future whatsoever, and one where diversity in both in front of and behind the cameras is valued. Especially when it was recently pointed out that Snyder was forbidden from letting John Stewart as Green Lantern appear in the epilogue at the end of Zack Snyder’s Justice League as he originally planned, due to the fact that Warner Bros. stated that they had their own plans for the character and they didn’t want Snyder interfering with that. So after much discussion, Snyder told them (since he had no intention of removing a Black man from the film) that he would instead use Harry Lennix as Calvin Swanwick, a.k.a. the Martian Manhunter, and both he and the studio agreed.

However, in a recent interview with LightCast Podcast, Lennix explained that what Snyder really had planned was for both Martian Manhunter and John Stewart-as-Green Lantern to appear at the end of the film. When the concept art for John Stewart-as-Green Lantern (as well as concept art for Granny Goodness) was released on Twitter, some fans saw it and immediately started filling in the blanks as to which actor could’ve ended up playing the character. Because of the resemblance, and because of photos taken with Ray Fisher (who plays Victor Stone, a.k.a. Cyborg, in Zack Snyder’s Justice League), it’s now believed by some fans that Wayne T. Carr (another up-and-coming theater actor like Fisher himself) was possibly cast as John Stewart, and possibly had that role shut down on the orders of Warner Bros., though there has been no official confirmation that Carr was on set or that he was even in consideration for the role.

Forbes film contributor Mark Hughes broke it down with his own theory as to why Warner Bros. most likely cancelled New Gods, and what that decision means for their plans regarding the DCEU:

Ever since it was decided that The Flash was going to tackle the infamous “Flashpoint” storyline from the comics, it was always assumed by most fans that Warner Bros. would use it as a way to try and largely reboot the DCEU, so if this is actually the real reason why this was done, it’s not entirely shocking.

Said it once before, but it bears repeating: There really is never a dull moment when it comes to the DCEU.

The Suicide Squad opens in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously on August 6, 2021; The Batman opens in theaters March 4, 2022; Black Adam opens July 29, 2022; The Flash opens (knocks on wood) November 4, 2022; Aquaman 2 opens December 16, 2022; and Shazam: Fury Of The Gods opens June 2, 2023.

When it comes to one or all of these films sticking with these release dates, let alone not having to deal with any behind-the-scenes nonsense and interference from Warner Bros., all that can be said is…

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Brian Richards is a Staff Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.



Header Image Source: Warner Bros.