Ryan Coogler: 6 Interesting Facts About the Black Panther Director

Ryan Coogler on the set of Black Panther

Many fans, and critics alike, have made an argument in favor of Black Panther as the finest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, with a Best Picture Oscar nomination as fitting evidence. Wherever the 2018 blockbuster may land on your own personal ranking, it is hard to deny that its director, Ryan Coogler, is one of the most exciting filmmakers in Hollywood these days.

The Oakland, California, native, born May 23, 1986, first got heads turning in his direction in 2013 with the release of Fruitvale Station, his feature-length debut and first collaboration with Michael B. Jordan, who plays Oscar Grant, the real-life victim of a tragic 2009 Bay Area police shooting. Two years later, the director would cast the actor as the title role of Creed: a new chapter in the Rocky movie saga told from the point of view of Adonis “Donnie” Creed, the illegitimate son of Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) late rival turned friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who seeks mentorship in the ring from the aging Italian Stallion.

Lately, audiences have been highly anticipating his return to the director’s chair (and to Wakanda) for the forthcoming sequel to Black Panther, which, honestly, brings to mind the realization that most of what we know about this talented filmmaker is what he has created, but not nearly as much about what created him. To make this right, let us take a deeper look into the life of Ryan Coogler with the following bits of trivia that may have flown off of your radar.

Marshawn Lynch on Westworld

Ryan Coogler Played High School Football Against Marshawn Lynch

Before he studied film at USC's School of Cinematic Arts, sports dominated Ryan Coogler's time as an undergrad at St. Mary's College and Sacramento State. In high school, he was made captain of the Panthers, Saint Mary High School's football team, and even got to play against future NFL star Marshawn Lynch. In an interview with The Undefeated, Coogler cites the running back, and Westworld actor, as "probably the best" player he faced off against back then.

A scene from Ryan Coogler's debut short Locks

Ryan Coogler Based His Breakout Short On A "Notorious" Bay Area Hair Trend

One of the first major footsteps of Ryan Coogler's career was the successful short Locks, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where the filmmaker would return in 2018 as the subject of a masterclass, moderated by renowned critic Elvis Mitchell. Coogler recalled how his six-minute, dialogue-free debut, depicting a young man's traumatic walk to the barber shop, was inspired by racial mistreatment he witnessed while growing up in Oakland and how it related to the very same haircut he had at the time, stating:

At the time everybody had [dreadlocks], so it became a trend, but it also became notorious. It got to a point where people started cutting them off because the police stopped you less if you didn’t have them. There was less chance of a mistaken identity.

Coincidentally, Locks debuted in 2009, the same year that Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a police officer at a train station in Ryan Coogler's hometown. The event would ignite a passion for the aspiring filmmaker to tell the man's story, which led to his feature-length debut.

Michael B. Jordan and Ariana Neal in Fruitvale Station

Ryan Coogler Worked As A Juvenile Hall Counselor While Filming Fruitvale Station

Like any first-time director usually must do, Ryan Coogler held multiples jobs (including night club security) as he started production on Fruitvale Station, the movie that would soon make filmmaking his primary source of income. However, in a 2012 interview with SFFS, Coogler recalls his then "9-to-5" as a counselor at juvenile hall a source of inspiration, adding how he would talk to the children he saw daily about "things they want to see in movies." One can only imagine the impact those kids might have had on his career.

Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in Creed

Ryan Coogler’s Own Father Was Heavily Influential To Creed

One notably inspirational figure to Ryan Coogler's career is his own father, a huge fan of the Rocky movies who was not only pivotal to his son's attraction to making Creed, but became a major influence to the story as well. The filmmaker spoke to The Wrap about how Rocky Balboa's non-Hodgkins lymphoma diagnosis in the 2015 modern boxing classic was taken from his father's struggle with an illness he leaves unspecified. The story coerced Sylvester Stallone into making the film, but was also crucial to Coogler's passing on the sequel, claiming to have "many emotional ties to it" on the Playback Podcast by Variety.

Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, and Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther

A Trip To Africa Informed Ryan Coogler’s Vision For Black Panther

By an astonishing coincidence (if there is such a thing), Ryan Coogler had been wanting to visit Africa to explore his cultural identity around the time he received the call to direct the first black comic book hero in his own self-titled film. He spoke to Rolling Stone about how he took inspiration from that trip when developing Black Panther, such as the following memory of his that sounds an awful like the fictional African nation:

In the diaspora, the Africa we tend to hear about is this fantasy place. Because it’s hard to tell a child about slavery – it’s so dire and so awful that you kind of have to balance it with something. So we get this fairy-tale version of Africa. ‘We were kings and queens, and we walked around and ate perfect food, and everyone was free.’ It becomes kind of like Wakanda.

Marvel Stuidos' Kevin Feige also vouches for how Ryan Coogler's trip is "why the movie looks the way it looks and sounds the way it sounds" in the article. Of course, much of that credit also goes to the filmmaker's frequent behind-the-camera collaborators, composer Ludwig Göransson and production designer Hannah Beachler (who both won Academy Awards for their work on Black Panther) just to name a few.

Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson in Creed

Ryan Coogler’s Wife Was A Sign Language Consultant For Creed

One of Ryan Coogler's lesser-known collaborators is his own wife, Zinzi Evans, who was her future husband's first assistant director on Locks and would later serve as an American Sign Language Consultant on the set of Creed. That was only the first time that she would take the latter position for a Hollywood production, followed by Rampage with Dwayne Johnson and Ava DuVernay's adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. The married duo are also set to co-produce Bitter Root, inspired by an Image comic book series of the same name.

What do you think? Do you feel more educated about Ryan Coogler than before, or would you consider this way below your own personal expertise of the filmmaker? Fill us in on what we may have missed in the comments and be sure to check back for additional information and updates on the Black Panther director, as well as even more behind-the-scenes looks into the lives of your favorite celebrities, here on CinemaBlend.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.