Cannes: 'Black Panther' Director Ryan Coogler Inspired by Movies From 'The Godfather' to 'Timbuktu'

After his mega-grossing movie screened as part of the festival's movies-on-the-beach series, he talked about the film's influences.
Ryan Coogler   |   Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
After his mega-grossing movie screened as part of the festival's movies-on-the-beach series, he talked about the film's influences.

Director Ryan Coogler, on a visit to the Cannes Film Festival, admitted Thursday that as he developed his blockbuster hit Black Panther, some of the many films he turned to for inspiration were the Godfather movies, because he'd decided that "the best way to look at Black Panther was like a crime movie." He also thought the heroic T'Challa's acceptance of his role as head of his royal family was akin to Michael Corleone's acceptance of his own fate.

Other films that fed his imagination as he and his collaborators, who included cinematographer Rachel Morrison, readied Black Panther included Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu for its views of contemporary Africa and Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent for its ideas about colonization. And, at the same time, he was delighted that the Marvel execs saw T'Challa as a potential James Bond for the studio.

Black Panther screened on the beach at Cannes to an enthusiastic crowd Wednesday night, and Coogler was greeted with a standing ovation when he arrived on Thursday for a conversation with critic Elvis Mitchell as part of the festival's "Rendez-vous Avec" series of filmmaker talks. As a way of paying it back, Coogler also arranged for 60 film students to be part of the audience.

When speaking about introducing audiences around the world to the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, Coogler said that "I was trying to capture that feeling I had when I visited the continent the first time."

Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa, he added, "is a character we've never seen before. He's a black man who's unaffected by colonization. When you first meet him, colonization hasn't touched his life, and I've never seen a character like that in a movie. I've never seen a character like that in history."

Coogler also explained the important role his parents played in exposing him to film. His mother had a wide-ranging love for and knowledge about films — "My mom was like IMDB before there was IMDB," he said with a laugh — while his father preferred action movies, from the Rocky films to Steven Seagal movies. But the 31-year-old director also recalled that when he was still quite young, his father took him to see two of the most formative movies in his life: John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood and Spike Lee's Malcolm X.

Having grossed $1.34 billion worldwide, Marvel Studios' Black Panther currently ranks as the ninth top-grossing film of all time, and, at the moment, is the top-grossing film of 2018, hovering just above Avengers: Infinity War's $1.23 billion.

Coogler, who established himself with the indie success Fruitvale Station in 2013, before first courting a mainstream audience with the Rocky sequel Creed in 2015, is planning to reunite with his favorite leading man Michael B. Jordan on the high school-set drama Wrong Answer for New Regency and Plan B.

  • Gregg Kilday