It’s hard to believe “Black Panther” is only the third film Ryan Coogler has ever directed. The 31-year-old wunderkind is on the brink of becoming a bona fide A-lister, as “Black Panther” is poised to break box office records the world over. It wasn’t too long ago, however that Coogler was in film school at USC, making his first shorts and watching Andrea Arnold films.
After an early screening of “Black Panther” this week, Coogler took to the stage at BAM’s Harvey Theater in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. As Coogler answered audience questions, he admitted he was slightly distracted by the sight of his “hero” Spike Lee, who was sitting in the front row. (Lee has lived and worked in Fort Greene for decades.)
When the question of his favorite films came up, Coogler was able to gush further about his hero. Unable to pick just one, Coogler listed the five films he said “had a profound effect on my life.”
“A Prophet (Un Prophete)” (Jacques Audiard)
Sony Pictures Classics
This Cannes Grand Prix winner follows a French-Algerian 19-year-old sentenced to six years in prison who becomes involved with an organized crime ring. Deeply arresting with outstanding performances, the film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and boasts a score from Alexandre Desplat (“The Shape of Water”). “A Prophet” also led IndieWire’s critics survey of the best Cannes films of the 2009 festival. “It’s the film I go back to the most,” Coogler said. “I saw it during my first time out of the country. It’s a big deal to me.”
“Malcolm X” (Spike Lee)
Coogler spoke nostalgically of his early movie-going memories at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, California. His father took him to see two classic African American films that made an indelible impression on him. “I was way too young. He made me go see them,” he said. “It was a wild experience: I was sitting on my dad’s lap, because I was too small to see over the seat.”
“‘Malcolm X’ was a big one for me, because I’d never seen a black man that powerful,” he said. “There was a point in the film where the Malcolm X showed up that everybody knew, he’s in prison and he’s got glasses on, and my dad said — ‘There he is!’ We had been watching the movie the whole time, but he was waiting for that Malcolm to show up. I was like — ‘Okay, I guess the movie’s gonna get better now.’ I remember being inconsolable when they killed Malcolm, but then the kids come home and the kids say ‘I am Malcolm X.’ And then it put it in my head: ‘Oh, this is a movie.’ Seeing the kids saying that was a big deal. It was more than a movie.”
“Boyz n the Hood” (John Singleton)
“I was just inconsolable when Ricky died,” he said. “It wasn’t a movie to me, I was seeing black folks on a hundred foot screen. I was just devastated after ‘Boyz.'”
“Do the Right Thing” (Spike Lee)
“The way [Spike] made Brooklyn feel. I had never been to New York, but seeing that as a kid, I was like: ‘I gotta go to that place.’ It just felt alive, it felt like home,” Coogler said. “When I wanted to make movies, I wanted to make a movie that felt like home and felt as real as ‘Do the Right Thing.'”
“Fish Tank” (Andrea Arnold)
“One of the first movies I ever saw that made me understand, it made me feel like I understood women more,” he said. “That’s the best way I can describe the feeling I had watching it. It’s one of those films, like [Gina Prince-Bythewood’s] ‘Love and Basketball,’ like [Julie Dash’s] ‘Daughters of the Dust,’ that’s a rallying cry of why the world needs women filmmakers.”
As “Black Panther” earns praise for its powerful women characters and deft way of using a superhero movie to tackle race issues, Coogler has certainly done justice to his cinematic influences.
“Black Panther” opens in theaters worldwide and at BAM’s Harvey Theater on Friday, February 16.