Director. Story-teller. Visionary. Those are just a few words to describe the incomparable artist that is Ryan Coogler.
Whether he’s taking us back to the wonderful world of Wakanda (looking at you Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) or turning up the heat in the boxing ring in Creed, the Oakland native has undoubtedly made his mark in the industry with a filmography that proves time and time again just how powerful our stories can be when put in the right hands.
My first introduction to him came back in 2013 when I was gearing up to watch Fruitvale Station for the very first time. If you don’t know, the film stars Coogler’s future frequent collaborator, Michael B. Jordan, and centers around the last 24 hours of Oscar Grant—a 22-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by BART police at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland, Calif. in 2009. I was aware of the backstory going into it, but thanks to the way Coogler decided to bring Grant’s story to life by shining a light on the humanity, tenderness and fully-actualized aspects of a man whose life was cut short—it made me almost forget about the impending tragic ending.
I remember crying in the theater as the credits rolled, crying while driving on the way back home and thinking about that movie for days afterward. I haven’t watched it again. What I have been a witness to in the years since, however, is the rapid evolution a director who continues to showcase and solidify the potency of honest storytelling when it comes to our people and our experiences.
I hate to be hyperbolic here, but from films like Fruitvale to Black Panther, Creed to Judas and the Black Messiah (to clarify, he didn’t direct Judas but he was a part of the all-Black producing team alongside MACRO president Charles King and director Shaka King)—the man quite literally has the Midas touch. Only instead of turning films into gold—though, I’m sure those gold statuettes from the NAACP Image Awards and eventual Academy Award (we’re claiming it now!) don’t hurt—he turns them into cultural pillars that serve as undeniable proof of the necessity to see more of ourselves, fictional or otherwise, onscreen.
The way he’s consistently able to keep his pulse on the culture and bring audiences into a story and into a world that resonates with where we are now is nothing short of legendary. And for that, we’ve got to be thankful. The world and the industry could definitely use more people like Coogler but because there’s only one of him, here’s hoping that his artistry will continue to push the needle and the culture forward and inspire multiple generations to bring truth to power in whatever medium they choose.
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