This year, we’re celebrating an extended Black History Month by highlighting a variety of rising forces who are creating history in real time. Writer/director Ryan Coogler made his feature debut with 2013's Fruitvale Station, the true story of the final day in the life of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III, who was murdered, unarmed, by police in public. As Coogler was making the film, he worked in a San Francisco juvenile hall as a youth counselor. He grew up in Oakland, Calif. watching his father work do juvenile hall work; his mother worked as a community organizer.
The sobering, widely admired Fruitvale Station led to Creed, a 2015 reunion between young star Michael B. Jordan and Coogler, now 29. The Rocky spinoff earned Sylvester Stallone a Golden Globe win and a Best Supporting Actor nod at the upcoming Academy Awards; Coogler and Jordan were conspicuously absent from the Oscar nominees, along with a great many talented people of color.
Coogler will next take on the task of becoming the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first African-American director, helming Black Panther, which will star Chadwick Boseman, who has played Jackie Robinson and James Brown in the last three years. The script comes from The Atlantic writer and National Book Award–winner Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Less than two weeks ago, Coogler was hired as Warner Bros. first Creative Talent Ambassador, where he'll work with "the next generation of UK talent, with scholarships that provide work placements, mentoring, apprenticeships and training courses." He doesn't take his position in Hollywood—that of the still-rare black auteur with wide access and increasing influence—lightly. He told New York magazine's Rembert Browne in December '15:
“Black art, it’s so complicated. Because there is no white art. Because, whether people want to admit it or not, you know, in this country, in this culture, white is seen as the norm. Because there’s no need to identify it as anything, it’s looked at as standard. Which, if you compare and contrast that, there’s an inherent unfairness to it.”
In addition to Black Panther, Coogler has two more films in the chamber with Michael B. Jordan, including Creed 2 and the real-life tale of what New York calls "an Atlanta schoolteacher ensnared in a standardized-test cheating scandal." Not that it needs saying, but: We'll be watching.