by Veronica Stone
At only 30 years old, Ryan Coogler is one of today’s most talented and promising directors. With two very solid critically and commercially successful films, the Oakland native is joining the big budget Marvel universe with the highly anticipated Black Panther, which will hit theaters on July 6th, 2018.
Coogler started taking creative writing classes at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California, while there on a football scholarship. He then, moved to Sacramento State where he took every film class that he could whilst majoring in finance. By graduation, he had accepted his passion for cinema and decided to attend USC film school where he directed four short films.
Coogler developed the script for his first feature, Fruitvale Station, at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. Critically acclaimed, it tells the true story of Oscar Grant, a young African American man, gunned down by police in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 2009. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize, as well as the Audience Award. At the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, the movie won Best First Film in the Un Certain Regard section.
The film recounts a dramatized version of Oscar Grant’s last 24 hours before his horrible murder. We follow Grant (played by a revelatory Michael B. Jordan) as he goes about his day, making amends with the mother of his daughter who caught him cheating, finding a birthday gift for his mother (played by the always great Octavia Spencer) and trying not to fall back into the drug world after losing his job at the grocery store. Fruitvale Station opens with actual found footage of Grant’s shocking murder and the audience is constantly aware of the fatality of this character.
Coogler did a stunning job at depicting Grant as an everyday, flawed human being who was just trying to make a change for the better. Rather than making Grant simply a martyr or a symbol, Coogler goes the extra mile with his visceral style of shooting, hand-held and naturalistic lens, to make him a three dimensional character full of contradictions and complexities. Rather than instilling the film with (understandable) blind rage against our flawed society, Coogler fills Fruitvale Station with an objective style that seeps with knowing heartbreak. The film is an outstandingly confident and socially important directorial debut for Coogler, who went from this reportedly modest $900,000 indie drama to directing this past year’s uber successful Rocky “sequel,” Creed.
Sylvester Stallone reprises possibly his greatest role ever, as the older and retired Rocky Balboa, who finds the will to live again after the illegitimate son of his greatest adversary and friend, Apollo Creed, comes to him for mentorship and training. Although Stallone received most of the recognition, winning a well deserved Golden Globe for his reprised role, it was, once again, Michael B. Jordan who stole the movie with his effortlessly likable and physically demanding role as Adonis Creed. The audience instantly feels Adonis’s pain and struggle as a young, angry kid shipped from foster homes to juvie until Apollo’s wife decides to take him in and give him a better life. Fast forward to the present and we see Adonis with a reputable corporate job. Yet, his desire to continue his father’s legacy, as well as make his own name, drives him from underground fights in Tijuana to Philly, where he convinces long-retired Rocky Balboa to train him professionally. Creed stays true to everything that made Rocky great back in 1974, but it adds its own original spin with impressive cinematography filled with epic action-packed, single-take shots and a memorable score. Coogler has demonstrated a natural talent for writing and directing emotionally captivating and socially impactful movies.
Coogler’s ability to make visceral and gripping stories supported by truthful, charismatic characters will no doubt be carried into the Marvel universe with his highly anticipated Black Panther. Starring Chadwick Boseman in the lead role, the film tells the story of T’Challa, aka Black Panther, the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, which sources most of the world’s “vibranium”. It is only fit that the first comic book movie starring a black superhero, be made by a black director (who tends to work with female cinematographers). Starring alongside Boseman is the great Lupita Nyong’o and Coogler’s favorite Michael B. Jordan (reminiscing a Scorsese-DiCaprio-like alliance) with a cast that will reportedly be 90% African and African American.
Coogler is no doubt one of the many young directors who are slowly, but surely, making their way from indie backgrounds to taking Hollywood by storm. Hopefully, changing the game in favor of a more diverse and accepting industry.