Ryan Coogler was born and raised in Oakland, CA, and first it the big time as a filmmaker with 2013’s Fruitvale Station. It won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and marked him as a director of note. He followed it with 2015’s Creed, a continuation of the Rocky saga which (among its other accolades) earned Sylvester Stallone a second Oscar nomination for his signature character. He followed that up by joining the MCU, and his stand-alone Black Panther movie is due to hit theaters this Friday. He spoke to the press about the project during the movie’s recent junket.
Question: You have to walk a careful line in this film. It needs to be a big budget crowd-pleaser, it needs to be in the Marvel Universe, but it also tackles these very potent questions of race. So where did you, or how do you try to balance that off?
Ryan Coogler: It’s something that I actually like talking about. I grew up loving comic books, and not just comic books, but pop culture. Toys, action figures, video games, all of that stuff. When I got older and realized that I wanted to make movies, I fell in love with cinema as pure art: cinema that left you with something to chew on. But I never fell out of love with big entertaining films, that leave a big mark on pop culture. I love those types of stories too, and I think the best versions of those stories, do both things. When I came and sat down with Marvel, I was very honest with Kevin [Feige]. And you think of Marvel like this big, huge studio: the biggest studio in the world right now. But it’s really just Kevin and these two really smart people he writes with.
I told Kevin “I want to make a film that works on every level that the other Marvel movies work on, but I also want to make it with these specific themes in mind and he was like “Great, let’s go!” I didn’t expect that, but as I got to know these guys… this is what they’re all about. They go out every time wanting to make something that entertains people, that works as a piece of entertainment but that leaves with something to think about. That made putting something like this together a lot easier than it might have been.
Q: Were there any specific comic books that you pulled from? Specific Black Panther comics or others?
RC: We actually pulled from as many as we could, you know. You can go to our film and see something in there probably from every writer that has touched T’Challa’s character in the Black Panther comics. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s initial runs through Don McGregor, Christopher Priest, Jonathan Hickman. East Coast Black Age of Comics and Brian Stelfreeze’s run was a big part of it as well. The character has a long history, and each kind of writer kind of left their own mark on it. We used parts from almost all of them. Agent Ross was from Christopher Priest, and Suri’s character was Reginald Hudlin, and so on.
Q: There are a lot of women onscreen, most of them with very powerful parts and a very powerful presence. Wat that also part of the plan?
RC: Absolutely. From the beginning. Women are over half the population and if you limit them or ignore them in any way, you’re cutting out a huge portion of the talent you have to draw on. And it was behind the scenes too. This film benefitted from brilliant women all over from start to finish. Victoria Alonzo is Kevin’s left hand, and she was there from the beginning. Our crew… we hired the best person for the job, and that involved a lot of women too. Our cinematographer Rachel Morrison, our costume designer Ruth Carter, production designer Hannah Beachler, and our assistant director Lisa Satriano who was responsible for getting her team going. Debbie Berman, who is from South Africa was one of our editors, and Victoria brought it all home. I was incredibly blessed to have these people, to have their perspective and had their fingerprints all over it.
Marvel's The Black Panther arrives in theaters February 16th, 2018.