Though he’s directed just two feature films—the 2013 indie hit Fruitvale Station, the true story of an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by a police officer in 2009, and last year’s Rocky sequel, Creed (both of which star Michael B. Jordan)—Ryan Coogler is quickly turning into a Hollywood heavyweight. Creed earned more than $110 million at the U.S. box office and copious critical acclaim. Now Coogler is gearing up to tackle a Marvel superhero movie, Black Panther, due in theaters in 2018.
Fast Company: What was your approach to making a new Rocky movie? The series has definitely had its ups and downs.
Ryan Coogler: The Rocky movies each have their own tone, so it was really a case of establishing what our tone was. With this movie, we were looking for [something] more realistic and grounded. [Our culture] right now has a lot in common with the ’70s—when the first Rocky was made—in terms of the cynicism and coming out of a recession and a really long war. We leaned into that. I also wanted to make a movie about what me and my dad were going through, and my dad’s favorite character was Rocky. It was kind of an allegory for us.
Unlike the other Rocky films, the central character in Creed, Adonis, is African American. It seems like the movie has turned out to be meaningful to that audience.
I have a lot of friends with young black sons, and after they watched the movie, they’d send us video of their kids boxing and punching pillows in the house and sticking their arms up. I didn’t expect that—and just like with Rocky, it’s people from all over and all cultures who love Adonis.
Your next film is Marvel’s Black Panther, which stars Get On Up’s Chadwick Boseman as a masked hero named T’Challa who avenges the death of his father. How do you make sure it works as a Marvel project but still bears your creative stamp?
It’s a challenge, [but] I’m obsessed with this character and this story. It’s going to be my most personal movie to date, which is crazy to say but is completely the case. The day I learned I was going to be making the movie, I went to the old comic-book shop I used to go to when I was in elementary school. I gave them the news that I was going to be doing it, and I bought some Black Panther comic books.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.