Ryan Coogler was born on May 23, 1986 in Oakland, California to Joselyn and Ira Coogler. He has two brothers, Noah and Keenan, who have both appeared in his critically acclaimed films. A talented wide receiver, Coogler spent four years at Sacramento State before transferring to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. He also worked briefly as a security guard and at San Francisco’s Juvenile Hall.
Coogler directed four short films during his time at USC. Three of these – Locks (2009), Fig (2011), and Gap (2011) – would be nominated for several awards. Locks would ultimately win the Dana and Albert Broccoli Award for Filmmaking Excellence and Gap would score Coogler the Jack Nicholson Award for Achievement in Directing. His time at USC would be a precursor to what has prospectively become an illustrious career.
Entering 2018, Coogler has served as director for three major motion pictures: Fruitvale Station (2013), Creed (2015), and Black Panther (2018). His body of work is immensely stylistic and visually sumptuous. While many directors, even arguably some of the all-time greats, can manage to let this emphasis on style belie a lack of substance, Coogler never lets his characters and their stories fall by the wayside. Fruitvale Station, for example, tells the story of Oscar Grant’s murder at the hands of a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer, yet manages to provide a full picture of Grant’s humanity, despite the film taking place over the course of 24 hours.
“It really caused an identity crisis here in the Bay Area because we think of ourselves as the most progressive place, the most diverse place, the most accepting place in the country,” he said when asked about Grant’s murder. “I grew up with white friends, Asian friends – Vietnamese, Chinese, Pacific Islanders. I had Hispanic friends, not just Mexican friends, but Guatemalan friends, Honduran friends, and we knew the difference, you know? So when we saw that happen to Oscar, and we saw it on video, it was like the wind getting knocked out of us. I was questioning who we were as a community.”
Creed, my favorite film of 2015, would be a second team-up for Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, who portrayed Grant in Fruitvale Station. Here, he plays Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky “villain”-turned-friend, Apollo; and he kills it, suggesting we may have the next historic director-actor winning formula on our hands. Coogler’s direction allows Jordan to bring a level of gravitas to a role that could have very easily been overshadowed by the presence of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa. Furthermore, he grounds the film in a deep state of realism, never shying away or hiding from the “uglier” side of Philadelphia.
Black Panther drops on February 16, 2018, and so, as I write this, I have yet to see it. However, critics are calling it one of Marvel Studios’ best films to date, which is saying something eighteen films and ten years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I have the utmost faith in Coogler to deliver.
Next, I’d like to see Coogler tackle a horror movie. It’s a genre growing in popularity every day and the best horror films harness Coogler’s strengths with his emphasis on character. We’ll see where the road takes him. I, for one, can’t wait.