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An exploration of the work of Ryan Coogler, a record-breaking film director, whose Oscar-winning and box office-conquering superhero adventure Black Panther scaled new heights for big-budget black cinema in Hollywood. Written and voiced Kambole Campbell, a writer and film critic for Empire Magazine, Little White Lies and Sight & Sound, this short profile documentary follows Cooglerâ€™s career from independent drama Fruitvale Station through Rocky franchise spin-off Creed to comic-book epic Black Panther.
Campbell argues that while Cooglerâ€™s films have grown exponentially in size, ambition and budget, they are united by common themes and personal touches. Each is an examination of contemporary black masculinity, from the family legacy that rests on Adonis Creedâ€™s shoulders to the central conflict of Black Panther, between the brute strength of the insurgent villain, Killmonger, and the grace and vulnerability of Black Panther himself, King Tâ€™Challa.
While his career to date has marked him out as a distinctive film-maker, Coogler favours sharing the limelight with his returning collaborators, to award-winning effect. Rachel Morrisonâ€™s cinematography on Fruitvale Station made a low-key drama more intimate and compelling, while Maryse Albertiâ€™s work on Creed hinged around a showcase sequence: Adonisâ€™s first bout, shot in long, elaborate takes, revealing the tactical battle of boxing as the combatantsâ€™ fatigue grows. Then, Black Panther broke the Marvel movie mould, crafting an Oscar-winning Afrofuturist aesthetic, from Hannah Bleachlerâ€™s sets to Ruth Carterâ€™s costumes and Ludwig Goranssonâ€™s score, all mixing sci-fi superhero style with traditional African accents, imagining a high-tech African utopia, untouched by European colonial influence.
What ties all of Cooglerâ€™s films together is his rewriting of the way black stories are told. Fruitvale Station flipped the script on portrayals of black victims in mainstream media. Creed re-centred a traditionally white-led sports franchise on a young black boxer, viewing the sports genre through the prism of black culture. And, finally, Black Panther was Cooglerâ€™s grand rewrite of colonialism itself, presenting an Afrofuturist fantasy of Africa untouched by colonialism and imperial greed, as well as a spectacular reinvention of the white-dominated superhero genre.
Throughout his films, no matter how large the budget or creative canvas, Ryan Cooglerâ€™s work is unified by an interest in black lives: their shared history, their identities and their representation on the big screen.
Inside Cinema | Ryan Coogler | BBC
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