We’ll tell you why this panther roars!
After months of rumors, it’s official: Ryan Coogler is directing Marvel’s Black Panther. That is, Marvel’s first black superhero will be directed by Marvel’s first black director. Coogler’s enjoying a meteoric rise, and while he’s only directed small to mid-budget movies (Creed topped out at an estimated $35 million, while Black Panther will almost certainly top $100 million), he’s unquestionably the best possible director for Black Panther.
How do we know? Let’s look at his history.
Haven’t seen Fruitvale Station? Fix that. Now.
Coogler’s biographical tribute to Oscar Grant III is a day in the life of a struggling black American. As skilled a drama as it is an indictment of white patriarchal society, it highlights the social inertia of impoverished black neighborhoods, showcasing the comparative lack of positive role models and the lack of any real options for a low-income family. For a person like Oscar Grant III (played mastefully by Michael B. Jordan), means of escape are limited. TV, weed, and, fatefully, New Year’s Eve fireworks. That’s right. Fatefully.
Using the BART transportation system, Oscar and his friends were on a trip up to San Francisco (‘frisco), when tragedy struck. After being assaulted on the train by an ex-con, Grant was separated by police in Fruitvale Station. While he was restrained, the arresting officer shot him in the back.
All this a year before Mike Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
It’s wrong to call Coogler ahead of the times in this; there’s been systemic inequality toward the black community since the birth of the nation (pun intended). Ferguson just marked when the nation became the most aware of it through social media. The real truth is that Coogler is a man intimately of the times. He’s got his thumb on the pulse of the black identity and has real, informed thoughts about society, the daily realities for black Americans, and about how their situation can be improved.
So how does that tie in to Black Panther?
Think about our first glimpse of Wakanda in Avengers: Age of Ultron. A dumping ground of rusting ships. An illegal vibranium mining operation run by a white Afrikaaner on the backs of black miners. A collateral damage-ridden superhero brawl in the middle of a Johannesburg. Rumors that somebody assassinated Wakanda’s king. This isn’t the glorious, technology-driven Wakanda of the comics, but Wakanda as it’d actually be in modern day Africa: a 3rd-2nd world nation still struggling to move past imperialism, oppression, and exploitation.
You bet Black Panther’s in Civil War after his country has suffered so much. You bet he’s got things to say about Wakanda’s place in the world. You bet he’s as much a ruler as an activist. You bet this is playing toward ALL of Ryan Coogler’s strengths.
So if Fruitvale Station is a sterling example of Coogler’s politics working through Black Panther, what about Coogler’s other movie?