Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler: From Doctor To Hollywood Director
He’s Marvel Studios’ youngest filmmaker and with the success of “Black Panther,” his third film, which brought in a record-breaking $235 million during its opening weekend, writer and director Ryan Coogler is well on his way to becoming a fixture in Hollywood.
In 2013, he gained attention and acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival with the release of his debut film “Fruitvale Station.” Now, just five years later, the 31-year-old is being hailed by IndieWire as a next-generation Steven Spielberg.
But this talented filmmakter almost went down another path. The story dates back to his childhood in Oakland, California. At the time, Coogler had no idea that filmmaking would one day be his calling. He explains to Filmmaker Magazine that up until college he had aspirations to play football and become a doctor.
That’s right, a doctor. He wanted to go play football and become a doctor to be an inspiration to others. But God had a different plan.
The school he was going to, Saint Mary’s cancelled its football program after he was there only a year, so the young wide receiver got another scholarship, this time to Sacramento State. There he changed his major to finance while taking every film class he could because of a conversation he had with his English professor, Rosemary Graham, encouraged him to become a screenwriter.
“She looked at my essays and told me I had a creative eye, that I should go to Hollywood and write screenplays,” he said. “I thought, ‘Where is she getting this?’ Then I thought ‘Why not?’ I went on the Internet, learned how to write a screenplay and fell in love with it.”
By graduation he was “all-in” with filmmaking. Another one of his professors had told him about USC film school. “It was either go there or play wide receiver. I was short, my prospects weren’t the highest, so I jumped off that cliff and drove to L.A.”
Getting into USC’s film school was very difficult. Ryan said 45 students are accepted each semester from a list of 400 to 700 applicants, who are judged solely on writing samples.
Living out of a car for his first semester, Coogler made a series of short films.
“This story has to be told,” said Ira Coogler, Ryan’s father to the East Bay Times 10 years ago right before Ryan was about to go to grad school. “People in the neighborhood have to see it — the parents, the kids. Just hang in there and believe. There’s delayed gratification.”
“The reason I’m here now, standing proud, are my mom and dad,” explains Ryan. “Take them away and my story could be one you hear all the time.”
Ira, a San Francisco probation officer, introduced his three boys to sports, driving them to events around the Bay Area so they could play in safe conditions, and also coached them.
His mother, Joselyn, was a community organizer in Oakland, introduced Ryan to the movies, thereby planting a seed. They watched movies together all the time.
Ira also brought the strict discipline so needed in the inner city, with its senseless violence and mounting homicide figures. Dad made certain his three sons knew that the word “home” didn’t mean the Richmond streets.
“He was and still is (a disciplinarian),” Ryan said. “It was difficult to accept at first, but I did. I thought I…