Ryan Coogler creates from a personal space.
His major directorial debut, Fruitvale Station, based on the death of fellow Oakland native Oscar Grant at the hands of transit police in 2009, was more than a compelling tale shedding light on the unfortunate situation.
Coogler’s documentation of Grant’s final hours spoke to the daily trials men of color face in America and beyond.
Heart and humanity are the connective threads in Ryan Coogler productions. Often, he acknowledges, pieces of his life strongly influence his pick of, and approach to, projects..
CREED, like Oscar Grant’s story sparked a charge in Coogler.. So much so, the script went into development while Coogler and CREED star Michael B. Jordan were still shooting the award-winning Fruitvale.
But how does the iconic Rocky franchise connect to the true story of a young Black man slain in his prime by police?
Starring Jordan and Tessa Thompson, Coogler’s premise of CREED grew from the “close-knit, yet, complicated relationship” between Coogler and his own father.
“That was the direct inspiration for the [film],” he tells EBONY.com, explaining that he and his father have always bonded via the Rocky films. After his father fell ill, and began losing strength, their dynamic changed even more and provided fodder for filming. “It’s one of those things where I appreciate him more the older I get,” Coogler shares. “My dad introduced me to sports and oftentimes was my coach. He’d be harder on me than the other guys and looking back, he was teaching me about work ethic and skill with hopes it would help me get going on a career and a better life for myself.”
After much convincing and finally locking in Sylvester Stallone to reprise his iconic role as Rocky Balboa, the once flickering green light was finally at full strength.
Coogler wasn’t looking to create a Rocky 7. Instead, he aims to introduce a new generation to the franchise with an origin story of Adonis Creed, played by Jordan. He explores the dynamics of this father-son relationship between Adonis and Balboa.
Sure, the action in the fight scenes is intense and the drama is as riveting as in past iterations, but the raw, emotional performance delivered through Coogler’s lens and the deeply embedded character of Philadelphia are unique to the once familiar film experience.
“When dealing with the Rocky movies, it was so important because Rocky was probably somebody who never really made it out of Philadelphia, it’s so much a part of him,” Coogler details. “Same thing for [characters] Adonis and Bianca. I try to build these backstories and as you do research on these different places, the visions come into play.”
Maybe it’s the first-person emotion in Coogler’s work that is bolstering his career and gaining him not only face time, but production support from veterans in the industry, including Forest Whitaker, who served as a producer on Fruitvale and Stallone, who trusted the emerging filmmaker with the new breed creation of a story and universe he created nearly 40 years ago.
Even Coogler isn’t so certain.
“I don’t know why Forest said ‘yes’ when I pitched him Fruitvale and I’m still not even sure what convinced Sly,” Coogler laughs. “[But] from a social perspective, they understand that there’s room for diverse representation behind the camera.”
He pauses, then adds: “I think our generation is much more hungry for stories that have diverse perspectives.“Not only that, but stories that have authenticity.”
CREED opens in theaters, on Nov. 25.