At the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, filmmaker Ryan Coogler reflected on the historic sensation of “Black Panther” while also revealing the crisis he went through upon turning 30, previously fearing death was never far behind.
Noting that Hollywood theories can’t be challenged “if you don’t have anything that disproves it,” Coogler said in a conversation on stage that he hopes “Black Panther” is the groundbreaking force many say it is, disproving the old myths that black films “don’t travel overseas.”
“I just hope that changes. It’s got to change,” said Coogler. “I hope that me and you can leave the business in a better place than where we found it.”
Coogler brought 60 film students, many of them African, to the event because Cannes had a significant influence on him when he came to the festival in 2013 with “Fruitvale Station.”
“It really did something to me as a filmmaker,” he said, adding that in his festival experience “sometimes it can be challenging when you’re in a talk and you don’t see faces that look like yours.”
In preparing the film, Coogler said he realized that the story of “Black Panther” — about a young man ascending to a family throne — bore many similarities to “The Godfather.” He studied Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece and even screened an early cut of “Black Panther” with Coppola.
But Coogler didn’t want that to divulge that inspiration before the movie came out because he said he was worried that people would think he was “aiming too high” for a comic book film.
“Black Panther” became one of the year’s most acclaimed films and grossed more than $1.3 billion worldwide. About half of ticket sales were overseas. On Wednesday night, “Black Panther” was screened on the Cannes beach.
The first time he screened the film for an audience, Coogler said, was for a group including a few dozen family members, Ava DuVernay, Kendrick Lamar (who produced the soundtrack), Issa Rae and George Lucas.
Coogler also cited the likes of Lamar, DuVernay and Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” for pushing him, indirectly, on “Black Panther.”
“My mind is being stretched by what we as people can do,” he said.
“Black Panther” has been hailed for its empowered and pivotal female characters, also a rarity in the superhero landscape. An interviewer also noted that Coogler had on his three films always worked with female cinematographers and editors.
The women of Wakanda, the imaginary land featured in the film, reminded Coogler of home.
“In a macro sense, that’s the black community,” he said. “You find these incredibly layered women (who are) smart, heads of household. That’s the world I come from. The women in my life are amazing and I want to make films that capture that.”
Still, the film also reflected on the dangers of home life as a Black man in Oakland, Calif. He also told reporters there was a time that he didn’t see himself making it past 25.
“Death is constantly around us to the point that when I turned 30, I almost had a crisis because I never imagined seeing myself that age,” said the now-31-year old director
He added existing in this country as a Black man means “25 is the like magic number that you’re either dead or in jail. I saw a lot of good people who didn’t make it past that age, whether they went to prison or whether they were murdered.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.