If anyone could put in perspective the unbelievable trajectory of filmmaker Ryan Coogler from his Fruitvale Station debut to Black Panther, it would be Sylvester Stallone, his creative partner on the film in between, Creed. Before Coogler even filmed a debut that would become a Sundance sensation, he was knocking on Stallone’s door, asking Stallone to allow him to bring his beloved Rocky Balboa out of retirement. That was a tall ask in itself, but the brash young man wasn’t done. He wanted Rocky to come down with a near-fatal disease, a storyline that mirrored an incident where Coogler almost lost his own father to a mystery ailment — the father who pumped up his son with Rocky highlights before Coogler took the field as a standout high school and collegiate wide receiver.
Coogler’s star, Michael B. Jordan, soon took up the lobbying pursuit. They finally wore down Stallone’s resolve, helped when Stallone’s wife Jennifer Flavin read the script and told her husband that if he didn’t make the movie, he had no guts. Creed birthed a new franchise and led to an Oscar nomination for Stallone, 40 years after his first nomination for the same role, back when Rocky shocked Hollywood and took Best Picture over a field that included All the President’s Men, Bound For Glory, Network and Taxi Driver. So Stallone understood how true talent always brought a puncher’s chance.
Marvel’s Kevin Feige, something of an expert on superpowers, recognized from both films that Coogler’s special gift was empathy and inclusion. That made him perfect for Black Panther, a film that allowed director and cast to tap into their African roots. Here, Stallone ponders Coogler’s jump from Creed to Black Panther, a global smash whose Best Picture candidacy is among its seven Oscar nominations. With its SAG Award-winning cast headed by Chadwick Boseman, Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke and Sterling K. Brown, Black Panther is the top global-grossing film of any Best Pic nominee at $1.3 billion. That figure signified the loud crash of a misguided conventional wisdom that films made by black directors with a predominantly black cast could not soar overseas.
After the final Rocky in 2006, I was satisfied with the results and never had any intention of continuing on down “the rocky road.”
Then I was told there was a young man who basically grew up watching the Rocky films together with his father many, many times, and it was his ambition to continue on “down the road,” but taking a different interpretation. I did not put much faith in the project since I had completed what I thought was Rocky’s journey. … Oh how I was wrong.
Ryan Coogler, an ambitious young visionary, met with me several times, yet still I was not convinced that the journey should continue any longer. After our final meeting I thought that would be the last time we would most likely see each other. But over a year later he returned after having won MANY awards with the independent film Fruitvale Station, starring a gifted young craftsman named Michael B Jordan.
After seeing all this fresh talent and watching the heart and soul oozing off the screen, I would have been a grand fool not to listen to this young director. He had the magical touch. It’s not something you can purchase or acquire, or even learn, it’s a connection to the pulse of humanity. … It’s the ability to reach off the screen and metaphysically grasp the audience by the heart and not let go until they have been taken on a special journey.
When Ryan and Michael decided to take a quantum leap with Black Panther, I was a bit skeptical; not because I was in doubt of their supreme talent and dedication, but this was a headlong dive into a genre that was not known for its “human touch,” its storytelling or compassion for the human condition. … But damn if they didn’t explode that myth!
What they did was so unexpected, and astounding, so relevant and historical that just didn’t change the theatrical landscape. It blew it up and re-paved the entire continent. They cracked the bigoted dam that for decades had sealed its floodgates from the culturally diverse re-imagining of the action genre that now spoke volumes to new audiences around the world that were hungry for fresh concepts, and insights into cultural interpretations that had been relegated into the void of obscurity.
I knew once Ryan set his inscrutable mind, tenacity and intrepid talent to this groundbreaking project, this affable young director would surely change the world forever, which he did!!! I’m just glad I lived long enough to see it!