Tag: Ryan Coogler

Why it’s important for all creatives to tell ‘niche’ stories


The ‘blogosphere’ can be all-consuming; as bloggers we’re told that consistency is key but sometimes I don’t have time to reflect on how my blog has evolved. A recent Twitter thread forced me to think of why I started blogging in the first place and the importance of so-called ‘niche’ stories.

why started blogging tweet

Many bloggers/vloggers/content creators want to develop content that will be consumed by the masses. There is a perception that black and ethnic minority stories can’t resonate in the mainstream, wth Western audiences. Black Panther shut down that theory, but a few years earlier in 2013, Fruitvale Station made a significant dent in this theory too (along with other films).

The film recounts the murder of Oscar Grant (a 22-year-old unarmed African-American man) by police. Michael B Jordan starred as the lead character, in director Ryan Coogler’s first, critically acclaimed film. The poignant portrayal of the events leading up to Oscar Grant’s death, were preceded by Coogler showing Oscar Grant’s life and struggles. Dealing with life after prison, looking for a job, balancing his relationship with his girlfriend and daughter.

Following a fight on a train, Oscar Grant was killed by police on New Year’s Day 2009. He was shot at point blank range in the back. The officers used an unnecessary amount of force, which I don’t think would have been used if Oscar Grant was white.

But Oscar Grant was not white; if he was, even with the same socio-economic status and lifestyle, he probably would have lived to tell the tale.

On a small budget, the cinematography of the film contributed to gripping viewing. All the accolades the film received were well deserved, especially on a debut directing role for Coogler.

fruit vale pic
Ryan Coogler’s first film, is part of the Block Party Cinema Film Club series (photo credit)

‘Justice’ is not a word I would use to describe the verdict on the murder of Oscar Grant. If anyone else killed Oscar Grant in the same manner, I think the verdict would have been different.

Whether you love or hate social media, its presence allows us to consume and share stories which would have been marginalised or erased. Oscar Grant’s murder was captured on mobile phones by various witnesses. In the moments leading up to when Oscar was shot, the film showed the witnesses who, regardless of race were all united in their emotions at what unfolded before their eyes.

When we share ‘niche’ stories we think may not directly relate to us, we humanise these stories. What we may think is un-relatable, can resonate with us on a human level. We may come from different backgrounds and cultures, but we have one thing in common – we are all human and can relate to each other emotionally on that and understand each other through that gaze.  When you authentically explore your own narrative and execute it intelligently, as Ryan Coolger did in Fruitvale Station, it can have global appeal.

I started blogging because I wanted to share the stories that are important to me but often marginalised by the mainstream media. We all benefit from telling and sharing ‘niche’ stories and that’s why it important for all creatives to tell them. Content creators are doing so through various outlets, including Block Party Cinema who hosted the screening of Fruitvale Station that I watched on a sunny May Bank Holiday weekend.

“As cinema loving Londoners, we’d grown disenchanted with the lack of access to black and multicultural films either through mainstream or pop up cinemas. Our ambition with Block Party Cinema is to help rejuvenate, and make these films even more accessible, whilst adding our own special ingredients to the mix. Community spirit has always been the soul of the best block parties and that’s the feeling we’ve harnessed to create this unique cinema experience.” – Block Party Cinema

 

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Will Ryan Coogler direct Black Panther 2?


The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) machine roars on, with its latest release – Avengers: Infinity War, expected to be the biggest Marvel film ever. Many people (who are not Marvel fans per se), including myself would not have much interest in the latest release if it wasn’t for Black Panther. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last three months, you’re aware of its global impact.

Ryan Coogler, on the Black Panther promotional trail in South Korea

The MCU is one of the most successful film franchises in the world, but the success of Black Panther put it in front of a new audience, taking it to a different level. Although not a Marvel fan, I’ve seen Thor, Captain America: Civil War Civil and Guardians of the Galaxy on TV because I watched it with people who are fans. I didn’t watch any of them with bated breath as I did Black Panther, after waiting a year for it’s release. The concept of an African country unaffected by slavery and colonisation was epic!

Black Panther introduced a whole new audience to the MCU franchise and succeeded as a stand-alone film – you didn’t have to know the back story for it to resonate. Co-writer and director Ryan Coogler (who adapted the screenplay from the original 1966 Marvel comic) was able to infuse his authentic voice throughout the whole film without depleting the traditional superhero narrative. References to black culture, history and emotion were simultaneously subtle and blatant. In a time when the validity of black (African) existence in the diaspora is constantly questioned, the positive portrayal of Africans came at a point when everyone needed a reminder of the richness of African culture.

In the midst of a superhero story, the allure of Africa encouraged Ryan Coogler to visit the continent before embarking on his Black Panther journey.

“I was very honest about the idea I wanted to explore in this film, which is what it means to be African. That was one of the first things I talked about. And they [Marvel] were completely interested.”Ryan Coogler, Rolling Stone interview

Coogler just finished directing his second film, Creed, when Marvel come knocking at the door. For any director, working with the Marvel franchise is big, but for a young filmmaker with only 2 films in his portfolio, Creed (2015, estimated budget $40 million) and Fruitvale Station (2013, estimated budget $900,000) shows it pays off when you are authentic. This is not always easy in Hollywood, but Coogler does it with a discreet defiance.

fruit vale pic
Ryan Coogler’s first film, is part of the Block Party Cinema Film Club series (photo credit)

“I wanted to tell epic stories, stories that felt big and fantastic. I liked that feeling as an audience member when it felt like I went on a flight and felt out of breath and I couldn’t stop thinking about it days later. I wanted to make stuff that gave people that feeling – but I wanted to do it for people who look like me and people I grew up with.”Ryan Coogler, Rolling Stone interview

While directing Black Panther, Cooger admitted he hadn’t directed two white men (Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis) in the same scene before. When I heard this, I immediately thought he was being restricted by the establishment, but Coogler’s apt response changed my perspective. This isn’t really an issue if you are portraying the stories you want to see.

“It’s not a situation where people are denying me that opportunity”. The stories [I’m telling] just haven’t lent themselves to me doing a scene with only white people in it. I’m making the movies that I want to make.”Ryan Coogler, Rolling Stone interview

After its release in mid-February, according to Forbes, Black Panther is STILL showing in 1,650 cinemas and is the second highest grossing (tickets sold) superhero movie in the US. When Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige, was asked if Coogler will be directing the Black Panther sequel (#BlackPanther2), he was optimistic.

“We definitely want Ryan to come back and that’s actively being worked out right now. When will it be? A lot of it will be when Ryan wants to and not rushing anything, but I think we have an idea of when it will be… “The success of Panther is so amazing and makes us happy for so many reasons, and it certainly exceeded our lofty expectations. Kevin Feige interview with Collider

coogler letter
Coogler admitted he was overwhelmed by the response to Black Panther, in a letter to fans.

I’ve seen 2 out of 3 Coogler films (Black Panther and Creed). I’m all here for keeping the cultural finger on the pulse of the African diaspora narrative (the reason I started blogging), so I’ll be going back to the very beginning, to watch Coogler’s first film (no, I haven’t seen it before and yes, I’m late to the party lol). Fruitvale Station won awards at Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals and was produced through Forest Whitaker’s (played the character Zuri in Black Panther) production company, so I’m sure it’s going to be a good watch!

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Featured image: You Tube screenshot from The Van Jones show CNN