Ryan Coogler shattered a lot of records by directing “Black Panther,” the first comic-book movie led by a primarily black cast. But during a nearly two-hour talk at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday afternoon, Coogler also revealed why it was important to break other studio-tentpole conventions.
When asked by moderator and critic Elvis Mitchell if the women of “Black Panther” were as important as the men, Coogler didn’t flinch. “I think you could argue they are more important,” he said.
Coogler went on to describe a stretch of the movie that is close to his heart (warning: minor spoilers ahead). “There’s a whole section of the film where T’Challa is out of the movie and you’re just following the women,” Coogler said about a scene where the titular hero (played by Chadwick Boseman) is left for dead and needs to be rescued. “That’s one of my favorite parts of the movie when I watched it, and I didn’t expect that.”
He explained how those scenes subverted his expectations. “That part of the movie you feel like you’re watching something fresh and new,” he said. “That part of it was exciting. We have these actresses who could easily carry their own movie,” he said, as he mentioned Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright. “Some of them have before. We were so fortunate. I would watch a movie with them!”
Would he ever do a spinoff with the ladies of “Black Panther”? “Oh man,” Coogler said. “That would be amazing if the opportunity came up. They did it in the comic-book version.”
Coogler recalled how Marvel first pitched “Black Panther” to him. “They said they wanted ‘Panther’ to feel like their James Bond, which I was excited about, because I love James Bond movies.” (He said his favorite film in the franchise is “Casino Royale.”)
“Once we realized the themes we wanted to explore, we watched different films,” Coogler continued. His list included “The Godfather,” for its relationship between fathers and sons. “Making a film about a guy who lives in a secretive country, his father dies, now he has to step into this position of power,” Coogler said. “‘The Godfather’ is one of the greatest films ever made on the same subject matter. I kind of realized the best way for me to look at ‘Black Panther’ is like a crime movie.”
He tried not to make that comparison too much. “You’re making a superhero movie. If you want to make it like ‘The Godfather,’ you sound scary. I was worried about people thinking we were aiming too high.”
Before production began, Coogler took his first trip to Africa. “I was in these Disney-approved hotels,” he said. “It felt like I was in San Francisco or something. The people who were working there seemed like my kind of people — people loading bags, the bellmen, the people working in the kitchen.”
It was crucial to him that the movie felt authentic to the continent. “We wanted the film to be an African film in all ways,” Coogler said. “Wakanda is what we could be. People call it a utopia. Some people call it a dream world or something to shoot for. The idea in Wakanda is everybody is allowed to have their fullest potential realized.”