The Los Angeles Film Critics Association gave “Creed” writer-director Ryan Coogler their New Generation award at this year’s ceremony January 9. But he had some thoughts of his own about the next generation of film critics, as laid out in the video of his acceptance speech just posted by Variety.
recalled going to Cannes in 2009 as a student filmmaker, trying to scrounge tickets for “Precious” and “Inglourious Basterds” but spending his down time in the Variety tent, where a “crazy typing guy” caught his attention. (Spoiler: It was Variety’s chief film critic Justin Chang.)
“I would see people coming in and out, working,” Coogler recalled. “But it was this guy, going crazy on his laptop, and he would run off, and then he’d come back and go crazy on his laptop, and he would run off. He looked different from everybody else in the room, because he was Asian. So I was thinking, ‘What’s this Asian dude doing in here, typing away on his laptop, crazy?’ He would type like a madman. He would type with a fury that I recognized, because that’s how I type — with passion, when I’m trying to get words out. One day I asked, and they said, ‘That’s Justin. He’s our critic.’ It was crazy, because I said, ‘Oh wow, this is the first time I’ve actually seen a critic work.’ I read reviews, I would see Siskel and Ebert on TV, I met critics’ studies majors at my school, but I’d never seen a critic do the work…. I always remembered that.”
After he got home, Coogler decided to look up some of Chang’s reviews, and he came across one for Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet,” which had played at Cannes but hadn’t been on Coogler’s radar. “While I was reading that review, I realized, ‘This dude is crazy talented. This is artistry, how this cat is putting these words together.’ I had a newfound respect for what it is you guys do, and its importance to the medium.”
“A Prophet,” Coogler said, instantly became his favorite movie, and it’s still an inspiration to him, a film he pops in the DVD player when he needs a jolt of inspiration. And even though Chang’s review wasn’t an unqualified rave, Coogler credited it for turning him on to a work that’s nourished him, passing the flame of cinephilia.
But while Coogler praised critics, he also challenged them, and the people they work for, to push for greater diversity in the field:
“I wanna tell you guys how important it is, the work that you guys do,” Coogler said. “It connects the world to the work that we do. You guys are kind of like our twin siblings. You love filmmaking as much as filmmakers, but you guys have the talent to be able to talk about it, and articulate what you see in it. In this world of Rotten Tomatoes and clickbait, it’s so important that you guys keep doing the work, keep doing the artistry, keep typing away and those computers and foaming at the mouth.”
“But I also have a challenge for you guys, too. Because you guys have given me this challenge right here. I would say, Reach back into the community and find the next Justin Chang. Find the diversity. Find those voices that are in places that you might not think to look. Because it would be amazing to see the next generation of you guys, and to have more of them… look like me and [Michael B. Jordan], and more of them look like Justin.”
Although Coogler made his speech before the Academy picked 20 white acting nominees for the second year running — and the only nominations for “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” went to white people — it resonates even more deeply now.