Black Panther: Directed and Co-Written by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed)

Writer-director Ryan Coogler is known for his intimate character-driven style, which catapulted him to the forefront of the indie film world in 2013 with his riveting drama “Fruitvale Station,” starring Michal B. Jordan.

Coogler’s follow-up film “Creed,” again with Michael B. Jordan and also with Sylvester Stallone, cemented his reputation as a filmmaker who excelled with challenging, multi-layered material.

“Ryan Coogler is an unbelievable filmmaker,” notes producer Kevin Feige.  “He’s already made two films that will stand the test of time. The fact that he was as excited and passionate about jumping into this storyline as we were was amazing for us.  His early thoughts and ideas really reinvigorated us with the possibilities for the film.”

For Coogler, talking with Kevin Feige was a meeting of minds that also “definitely attracted” him to the prospect of taking on “Black Panther.” “Kevin is somebody who you could tell really loves what he does,” says Coogler. “Kevin has a really clear vision of what this universe means in pop culture and in the industry and what it could do. He’s a big-picture guy, but at the same time he can go from big picture to character and story and what’s important in a heartbeat.”

While Coogler’s filmmaking credentials impressed Feige and the Marvel Studios’ team, the self-avowed fan boy and longtime “Black Panther” fan also possessed a deep well of passion and drive to embark on the journey to bring the world of Wakanda to the big screen. That journey began with the screenplay, which he wrote with Joe Robert Cole.

In drafting the story, Coogler says, “We looked at everything. Everything was fair game. It’s such a rich history there, with Black Panther and publishing. He’s one of those characters that does a good job of building off of what the last custodian of the story did. You see certain writers come on board and invent certain things about Wakanda, or certain characters, and you see those characters carry over and grow under other writers. So, we looked at that.”

Captain America: Civil War Vs. Black Panther

Black Panther’s appearance in “Captain America: Civil War” was “a great jumping-off point,” for Coogler: “Captain’s universe and Black Panther’s universe are closely related. Some writers in the past hinted at that more than others.”

He adds, “But you have the vibranium connection and you have the super soldier connection. Captain America tends to be a character who’s easily defined. For Captain, it is black and white; there’s right and there’s wrong. He’s a soldier.  Whereas Black Panther exists in the gray area. Along with being a soldier, he has a more important job as a politician. He’s a monarch whose world is extremely complicated. He’s constantly making these choices in the fog of politics and in the fog of war.”

As fantastical as the world of Wakanda is, the writing team made sure that the spiritual, the mystical and the technological influences in the country’s culture were still anchored in the real world with characters that the audiences can relate to.

The film is about Black Panther but also about the proud nation of Wakanda and its people. “We see T’Challa’s friends, people whom he grew up with, people whom he’s responsible for, people he has to answer to when he’s sitting on that throne,” Coogler says. “And all of that is extremely important. We really wanted Wakanda to feel like a real place, in the same way that it is when you meet a New Yorker. Maybe you have never been to New York before, but you get a sense of what New York is like through the people.

“Audiences have already met somebody who’s from Wakanda and who represents Wakanda, but they haven’t been there, so we’re dropping them right off at ground zero in this film. And they will have greater understanding about how and why T’Challa did the things he did in ‘Civil War,’ and why he moved the way he moved,” concludes Coogler.

Beyond stunning visuals, memorable characters and Black Panther’s super-heroics are the thriller elements of T’Challa’s introspection and struggle of how to best lead his kingdom. Should Wakanda remain cloaked in obscurity for another millennia or be thrust into the scrutiny of the international political stage?  Whether on his own terms or having his hand forced by outside influences, T’Challa faces the decision of a lifetime.

Coogler and Cole’s aimed to craft a realistic story of T’Challa’s self-discovery as King and as Black Panther, “T’Challa is dealing with the loss of his father on a personal level. But he’s also dealing with it on a professional level. He just got the biggest promotion of his life. A whole nation of people are looking at him for what to do next.”

The filmmakers were careful in filling the ranks of the cast around Chadwick Boseman’s title character. Coogler and Feige gathered stellar ensemble of pedigreed cast, from the ranks of film, theater and television artists.

Say Coogler: “It’s great to be able to delve into the world of Wakanda, see Black Panther’s lineage and heritage, and meet these amazing, rich characters that surround him. To bring them to life, we put together a phenomenal cast. They are among the best that we’ve ever assembled.”

 

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