At only 31, Ryan Coogler holds director credits for “Fruitvale Station,” “Creed” and now his biggest undertaking yet, Marvel’s “Black Panther.”
Although not the first Black superhero movie, “Black Panther” has undoubtedly come with the most fanfare and the biggest studio budget for a film of its kind.
At at a pivotal point in American history — politically and socially — the expectations and stakes are high.
With a majority Black cast, Coogler said it was one of the few things he knew he had to get right.
“These movies, for whatever reason, when you announce who you cast, everything gets judged,” he said. “Casting has a lot of implications, and I wrote the script with certain actors in mind, because this was a opportunity for us, specifically with [stars Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman].
“Coming up in the ’90s we had three of these male stars that could front any kind of movie, they could do action, funny, sexy — Denzel [Washington], Will [Smith] and Wesley [Snipes] — and they were never in a movie together for whatever reason,” Coogler said. “For me, this was an opportunity because Chad can front his own movie, Mike can front his own movie, so this was a chance to make that Denzel-Will movie I never got to see. For the people coming up, now they can see that the two dopest Black actors can work together with no problems.”
Coogler said that when he was named director of the film, he immediately felt a certain responsibility.
“I thought it was important to fuse my own perspective as a Black man,” he said. “It was something I felt I had a responsibility to do with a very specific perspective. I’m African-American, born in the ’80s, from a specific place, Oakland. I see the world a particular way for all those reasons, but I also have questions as it relates to my identity as a result of that as well.”
In preparing for his role as director and co-scriptwriter, Coogler journeyed to Africa to begin his research.
“I know there is a dynamic in terms of being African-American versus African,” he said. “It’s a dynamic that’s very interesting that I’ve come across at various stages in my life. Hip-hop culture is like popular culture now. You go across the world and that’s the music everyone is listening to.
“I wanted to do my homework and penetrate the continent, because my perspective isn’t the only perspective,” Coogler said. “I visited several countries in Africa and spent time there. The question for me is, what does it mean to be African, a question I’ve been asking myself since I knew I was Black.”
Coogler said his misconceptions about the continent cleared up while visiting, a theme that is explored in the film.
“I learned that we as African Americans are really, really African, in almost everything we do,” he said. “I grew up thinking that we had our African culture taken from us, that it was lost, but the truth is we didn’t, we held on to it.”
Coogler said the connections just haven’t been made yet and that “Black Panther” could start an important conversation.
“I’m African, but no one who has told me that in my family has ever been there,” he said. “With this movie I was kind of able to answer that question. I wanted to make a movie with a theme that had some depth to it.”