As the Thanksgiving holiday of 2015 approaches, many people are turning their eyes to Creed, the Rocky spinoff film about Apollo Creed's illegitimate son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), who leaves a life of wealth and prestige behind in order to train as a fighter in the mean streets of Philadelphia, where he connects with his late father's longtime friend and one-time rival, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
What sounded like a bad idea on paper (a Rocky spinoff) has grown to become one of the more highly anticipated and well-reviewed films of the year (at least from early word). A lot of that front-loaded acclaim has come courtesy of what viewers have seen in some impressive trailers, which spotlight more quality work from director Ryan Coogler, a filmmaker who burst onto the scene with his award-nominated 2013 film, Fruitvale Station (which also starred Michael B. Jordan).
Coogler's name has been on more and more lips the last few years, and the filmmaker was most recently thrust into discussion as a possible contender for Marvel's Black Panther, the upcoming movie about the king of an advanced African country who moonlights as a superhero (and future Avenger). Even though rumors of Coogler's involvement with Black Panther have panned out to be just that - rumor - we took the opportunity to speak with the up and coming director at the Creed press junket in Philadelphia, about the subject of the Black Panther movie, and whether or not it needs a black director at the helm.
Screen Rant I know there’s been a lot of rumors about you and Marvel's Black Panther. I don’t want to talk about that because you are focused on [Creed]. But do you think something like a Black Panther movie from Marvel has to have a black director? We’ve seen just like every prominent black director thrown in—Ava [DuVernay], you, anybody who’s had any kind of success in the last few years…
Ryan Coogler: Yeah, I think it’s important. Perspective is so important in art. It’s an important thing. That’s not to say that you can’t work outside yourself. When I was coming up, I made movies about things that were close to me; I made movies about things that weren’t close to me. But I definitely think that it helps when you are close to a subject. Like, I was an athlete for most of my life before I was a filmmaker. And that helped to inform me when writing this script, when directing. Having had those types of experiences helped me inform this process.
A lot of times with great movies, you find some part of the filmmaker’s life informing what they were doing. You look at Marty’s great movies. It’s like, man, you look at Mean Streets, that was his life. That was what he was dealing with. That was what he was coming up with.
If someone said, “What’s Marty Scorsese’s greatest movies,” they’re going to generally be about the Italian American experience. People are going to throw out Goodfellas, they gonna throw out Mean Streets because it was something that was close to him. That’s not say that Departed isn’t a great movie. But the proximity…you could feel the director’s proximity to a movie like Goodfellas a little better because he grew up in that neighborhood. He grew up in Little Italy. That was his world.
So I think that there is a potential for a greater truth when a filmmaker comes from a particular culture that they’re dealing with. That’s not to say that a filmmaker can’t work outside his or her cultural space. But I do believe that the opportunity for the film to have more nuance will come when you looking at filmmakers that bring a little bit of that from their personal experience.
That’s why I think folks are opinionated about it. But if I was in a position where I’m making a movie about the first woman superhero that’s every going to get released all over the world, I would do everything in my power to find a woman to direct that movie out of the simple fact that I think it will give you a cultural perspective. I don’t think that’s wrong of a studio to do. I think it’s actually responsible. It’s responsible because it’s their job to make the truest, best film.
Though Coogler's words may stoke a sense of controversy in some (not a hard thing to do, these days), he does raise an interesting point about whether it is the subtle touches of first-hand experience that makes a director well-suited for specific material (ex: DC/WB picking a female director for the Wonder Woman movie).
The opposing argument tends to be that since cinema (and really storytelling as a whole) is a fantastical exercise, leaps of imagination into the experiences of other genders or races is no greater a challenge than, say, imagining what a sci-fi hero is experiencing on some distant galaxy or planet that doesn't really exist. To be fair, imaginary alien species don't necessarily carry the same danger of becoming offensive caricatures or stereotypes the same way that more realistic characters can, when improperly drawn (...except for those Star Wars prequels), so I personally think there is merit to Coogler's opinion.
NOBODY wants to see, say, Michael Bay's vision of Wakanda (Black Panther's homeland); there could (*could*) potentially be brushstrokes of African culture, history, and the nobility that a filmmaker like Michael Bay would... overlook. (Who are we kidding? He wouldn't even make it to the title card of the film without setting off alarm bells of bad taste all over the place.)
This debate about the role of gender, ethnicity and sexuality in modern entertainment mediums shows no sign of slowing down. In terms of Black Panther, do you agree with Coogler that a black director may have certain insights that help really convey the deeper themes behind the hero? Or is this a project that anyone with the necessary directing skill and experience could take on?
Creed will be in theaters on November 25th - Check back then for our official review, as well as more from our interviews with the director and cast.
Captain America: Civil War will release on May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 28, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.