2016’s Deadpool undoubtedly popularized the anti-hero subgenre. However, it was hardly the first film centered around an anti-hero — a protagonist lacking some of the conventional attributes of a traditional hero. In fact, that honor belongs to 2005’s Constantine, starring Keanu Reeves. It even had all the hallmarks of a modern anti-hero movie. For instance, a post-credit scene and another anti-hero that ties into John Constantine’s past — Papa Midnite, portrayed by Djimon Hounsou.
Papa Midnite has a long history with John Constantine and has been a part of John Constantine’s initial comic book run since the very first issue, with plenty of backstories to warrant his own cinematic release. Considering just how popular the anti-hero subgenre is, making a Papa Midnite solo film could provide a perfect springboard for a new Constantine film/reboot. This could make the character a bigger, badder, more British, and blonder resurgence in cinema.
With that said, Papa Midnite’s ties with Constantine aren’t the only thing that would make this anti-hero’s solo screen debut an absolute hit. As a comic book character, Papa Midnite has nearly three centuries of canonical narrative to explore, dating back to the American Revolution. He has style, powers, and very long-lived grievances that make him a dynamic character worth exploring on the big screen.
For those that haven’t previously met the character, Papa Midnite is a powerful Voodoo practitioner who, ultimately human, gained immortality sometime in the 18th century. We’re first acquainted with the character in the first issue of Hellblazer comics, released in 1988 by DC comics. Unfortunately, as with most DC characters, certain elements of his origin story have been heavily retconned, so some hallmarks of his past may be a bit foggier than others, although we’ll try to shed as much clarity as possible.
According to the official Hellblazer mythos, Midnite and his twin sister Luna were born sometime in the 18th century, when their mother schooled them in the art of voodoo. They later moved to New York, where they took over the home of a white landlord through magic and established it as an HQ for a gun smuggling operation they ran. One day, a slave named Cuffee paid Midnite to make a bullet-deflecting powder, planning to use it to overthrow white rule in New York. It’s easy to imagine this retelling as the first scene of a potential film.
The powder Midnite provided, however, was fake, and Cuffee’s rebellion was quickly quashed, resulting in hundreds of dead slaves. In their revenge, Cuffee and his friends forced Midnite to decapitate Luna and cursed him with immortality. Afterward, Midnite communed with Anansi, the African trickster god, to design another rebellion involving Cuffee’s son, Fortune, but this plan was also flawed by design, and destined to fail.
At one point, Anansi turned on Midnite, letting him be burned at the stake. Fortune took Midnite’s still-living body and shipped him off to the West Indies, where he would become a slave as well. What happened after is unknown, but we know that Midnite continued to practice magic using his sister’s skull to talk to the dead. After Luna “moved on,” Midnite convinced Linton, a young Jamaican boy, to kill his sister Cedilla, and sever her head. He then branded the girl’s soul in a way that would send her soul to Hell so that she could provide him with necessary information.
He eventually moved back to New York and took over the criminal underworld, running his operations from within a nightclub, as seen in the 2005 Constantine film. There he had a run-in with John when he stole the Ace of Winchester, the weapon also seen in the film. Not to mention there was no love lost when Constantine also managed to steal $50,000 from Midnite, who sought to level the scales of revenge by sending John’s soul to Hell.
This didn’t end well for the Voodoo priest, as John also found Cedilla’s soul in Hell and freed her from Midnite’s spell that bound her there. Furious, Cedilla returned to Earth and compelled Papa Midnite to throw himself off the 68th floor of the Empire State Building. Despite making his way to the first floor with a splash, Midnite was unable to die.
Some accounts reference Linton and Cedilla as the original Midnite twins, who were taught voodoo by their father instead of their mother. The rest of the origin story remains pretty much the same, and it could serve as a cinematic precursor to the events of the 2005 Constantine film or a reboot. Unfortunately, the chances of a Constantine sequel, prequel, or even a reboot, are diminishing with each passing day — Keanu Reeves even stated that he had failed to get Constantine 2 made.
With everything said, recent reports state that J.J. Abrams, in charge of the DCEU’s Justice League franchise, is planning to reboot Constantine as a television series for HBO Max that would tie into his Justice League Dark franchise. There’s also talk about Sope Dirisu, an English Nigerian actor known for his role in Gangs of London, being attached to the project as the lead role, though those rumors weren’t officially confirmed.
We can hope, however, that Warner Bros. and DCEU remember to give Papa Midnite a well-deserved film, perhaps as part of the upcoming Constantine series. Lance Reddick, an American actor, and musician would be a good fit, considering that he already has experience playing a mystical character, Papa Legba, in American Horror Story — he’d be more than able to translate Papa Midnite’s complexity to the silver screen.