Tag: black panther
Since its February release, “Black Panther” has become a global phenomenon, but star Michael B. Jordan (who played villain Erik Killmonger) says he didn’t foresee just how big of a cultural impact the film would make.
“It was truly incredible. While we were making it, you didn’t really realize it. And then in hindsight, it’s like, ‘Yeah, we kind of did that,” Jordan tells Charlize Theron during Variety’s Actors on Actors series.
He says “the memes and the social media element” that “Black Panther” inspired helped him see that the film had resonated with the current generation. He also says he saw plenty of little Killmongers “with the permanent marker beards” and young girls dressed up as Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s all-female special forces in the movie.
But Jordan says what was most meaningful was seeing communities rally to support the film. Church groups, community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, and organizations helping at-risk youth all rallied to host “Black Panther” screenings. Critics and audiences alike applauded the film for black representation and its homages to different African cultures, like the Maasai in Kenya and the Zulu from South Africa.
“Seeing the journalists come in the traditional garbs, and hearing stories about how this movie encouraged them to get back in contact with their roots and where they come from,” Jordan says, “it gave everybody a sense of pride. And I was like, ‘Wow, this movie is global.’”
Jordan, who most recently starred in “Creed II,” also says anybody can relate to “Black Panther,” regardless of their background.
“It’s not just the African experience. That’s what it’s framed in, but it gives everybody else access to that same type of self-discovery,” he says. “And that’s when I really started to realize the impact that it was going to have.”
There’s something serendipitous about Michael B Jordan ending 2018 with another smash hit. After an Oscar-buzzed role in Marvel’s Black Panther, he’s now headlining Creed II, a sequel that’s over-performing at the box office – and at the same time, the industry is expanding to give more chances to other black actors than ever before.
Alongside John Boyega, Daniel Kaluuya, Stephan James and Jovan Adepo, Jordan is one of an increasing group of stars who are finally being given major roles in blockbuster projects. But is this modern “black renaissance” the cause of his rise to leading man status, or was Jordan destined for greatness regardless?
The 31-year-old has been in the business for about 20 years, since first appearing in commercials as a child. This year alone provides proof that he’s graduated to a leading man, after impressing in The Wire and in 2013’s fact-based indie Fruitvale Station.
He stumbled in 2015’s poorly received Fantastic Four reboot, but then Jordan found hitherto unseen success as the supervillain Killmonger in Black Panther earlier this year. Reuniting him with his Fruitvale Station and Creed director Ryan Coogler, Jordan delivered an intensely complex, fascinatingly relatable bad guy, praised by fans and critics alike. Abandoned by his wealthy Wakandan family, Killmonger grew up fatherless, alone and impoverished with a surging rage for his predicament.
Jordan’s performance embodied black pain in a way that felt horribly relevant in Donald Trump’s increasingly divided America. But despite praise, Jordan’s immersion in the role took its toll. He poured so much of himself into the villain that the end of production was reportedly followed by a stint in therapy. “Once I got finished wrapping the movie, it took me some time to talk through how I was feeling and why I was feeling so sad and, like, a little bit depressed,” he shared on The Bill Simmons Podcast. Sessions with a therapist helped him move on just in time to prepare for his next project.
But the critical and commercial success of $1.3bn mega-hit Black Panther didn’t bleed into his second film of the year, HBO’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Jordan starred as a dystopian fireman, trained to set fire to “contraband media”, but while the plot might have felt prescient, and despite a formidable co-star in the shape of Michael Shannon, the film premiered at Cannes to lukewarm reviews. Jordan was too busy to notice, however, since he was in the middle of another grueling production.
In 2015, he’d scored a win with his induction into the Rocky franchise; Coogler’s rousing reboot Creed, a franchise he returned to this year. Creed II is already a major hit, outperforming expectations with $62m in its first week and scoring strong reviews. The saga chronicles a boxing underdog with a champion name – Adonis Creed – who is fighting his way to recognition, independent of a legacy that seemed to die with his father. In the sequel, Adonis must face the son of the man who murdered him. The journey he takes resembles Jordan’s own struggle to legitimate leading man status in a traditionally restrictive industry for actors of color. It’s no wonder that the actor plays the boxer so well. There’s also that name …
“Being named Michael Jordan – I think growing up playing sports and having a name like Michael Jordan, and I was extremely competitive, I used to get teased a lot,” he said to NPR’s Audie Cornish last month. “But it made me want to strive for greatness and be able to compete at whatever I decided to do.”
Toughness on screen has also been offset by an undeniably grounded charm off it: Jordan has achieved virality on more than one occasion this year. In March, Jordan offered to pay for a replacement retainer for a fan who broke hers from excitement over seeing him shirtless in Black Panther. Two months later, he was riding high on Twitter again after it was revealed he’d met a fan who contacted him via Instagram. Just this week, he’s been at it again – cannily meeting a fan who had previously gone viral by Photoshopping the pair together.
There’s also something else that drives Jordan: the need to prove himself outside of restrictions tied to his race. In an interview for Variety’s Actors on Actors series, Jordan revealed to Insecure’s Issa Rae that he seeks out roles written for white actors. Roles written for black characters, he reasoned, were filled with the writer’s preconceived notions of what his character was supposed to be.
“I’m first and foremost a black man, for sure, but what I’m trying to do, and what I’m trying to represent and build, is universal,” he said in a Vanity Fair profile in October. “We live in the times where everything is based around race, and for me, it’s like, I get it, I understand. It just makes everything so loaded.”
In March, Jordan made waves by announcing that his production company Outlier Society would adopt an inclusion rider for every future project they take on. He was the first to respond to Frances McDormand’s Oscar acceptance speech which saw her talk about the rider that would demand equality in front of and behind the camera. It was groundbreaking news by itself but later in September, Warner Bros announced it would partner with Jordan to ensure this became a company-wide policy.
“Inclusivity has always been a no-brainer for me, especially as a black man in this business,” Jordan said. “[But] it wasn’t until Frances McDormand spoke the two words that set the industry on fire – inclusion rider – that I realized we could standardize this practice.”
The first film to hold true to the policy will be Just Mercy, a film that sees Jordan star as civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson. It’s a project that will help to further extend Jordan’s appeal beyond the multiplex and into the awards conversation. Yet there’s a chance he might be heading to the main stage next year with experts predicting a best supporting actor nomination for his performance in Black Panther, a film that might well be the first superhero adventure to ever score a best picture nod.
Jordan has honed his skills and set his goals while plotting to challenge an oppressive system that has weighed people of color down. He’s working hard to claim his own seat at the table, and is taking care to prevent barriers to his progress and that of black actors coming up behind him. With a banner year, he’s not only become Hollywood’s most exciting new leading man, but he’s helping to define what we should expect of other leading men in the future.
Source: The Guardian
“Creed II,” which opened in theaters Wednesday, finds Michael B. Jordan’s character, Adonis Creed — like the actor, himself — adjusting to his newfound prominence: reaching the pinnacle of his profession while still having to fight for what he believes in. Associated Press/Warner Bros. Pictures
NEW YORK — If Michael B. Jordan’s path to this moment was condensed and edited, it might look, appropriately, like a training montage.
Images of Jordan cutting his teeth on the Baltimore streets of “The Wire” and the Texas football fields of “Friday Night Lights,” followed by hints of a soaring talent (“Red Tails,” “Chronicle”), shattering breakthroughs (“Fruitvale Station”) and setbacks (“Fantastic Four”) before reaching, with a pair of haymakers (“Creed,” “Black Panther”), heavyweight status.
Parallel to Jordan’s steady rise has been the 31-year-old’s expanding sway behind the scenes in Hollywood. His production company, Outlier Society Productions, was among the first to embrace the inclusion rider, adopting the pledge to seek diverse casts and crews just days after Frances McDormand referenced it at the Oscars. Jordan was also influential on a similar agreement by WarnerMedia, making Warner Bros. the sole major studio thus far to sign up.
“He’s always been a big-idea guy,” says Ryan Coogler, who directed Jordan in “Fruitvale Station,” “Creed” and “Black Panther.” “He’s always been conscious of his own responsibility.”
“Creed II,” which opened in theaters Wednesday, finds Jordan’s character, Adonis Creed — like the actor, himself — adjusting to his newfound prominence: reaching the pinnacle of his profession while still having to fight for what he believes in. As Steven Caple Jr.’s boxing drama prepared to open in theaters, Jordan went door-to-door in Georgia urging people to vote in the midterm elections.
“You’ve been doing one thing for 20 years. Constantly working at it, trying to grow and become successful, or whatever your version of success is. And then you have a moment in time where everything seems to be coming together at the same time. Everything seems to be happening. But you live in a society, in a world that’s kind of going to (expletive),” Jordan said in a recent interview. “So to be able to use one to help the other, is something. To try to find your voice.”
It’s an answer with shades of Jordan’s typical performance: earnest, thoughtful, tinged with pain. Then he exhales.
“I don’t know, man,” says Jordan. “Honestly, there’s a lot going on right now and I’m trying to find my place in all of it, professionally and personally.”
A big part of Jordan’s quest was “Black Panther,” in which he played Erik Killmonger. The part is ostensibly a villain, but in Jordan’s hands, Killmonger — a wounded, fatherless warrior bent on reparations through violence — has a depth uncommon if not outright alien to comic-book films. Between Killmonger and the Wakanda leader T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is a larger dialogue, one fraught with history, between African identity and the African diaspora.
“Making a movie, you rarely come out the other side the same. You either grow or regress. I came out a different man,” says Coogler. “The conversation that was had between T’Challa and Killmonger, what it means to be African — I didn’t know I needed that movie as much as I did until after I made it. I look back and I say: ‘Man, I really needed that. I needed that conversation.'”
The performance has made Jordan one of this year’s leading supporting actor contenders for the Academy Awards. Coogler praises his friend’s vulnerability in a complicated role.
“He was one of the few African-American characters and he was carrying the weight of that cultural representation,” says Coogler. “Mike brings a lot of the empathy with him, as a person and as a performer. That’s one of the things that makes him special. Almost as soon as you see him, you empathize with him.”
“Black Panther,” the year’s biggest domestic blockbuster and most resonant cultural event, left a mark on Jordan.
“Playing Killmonger, carrying that oppression, that feeling of being a representation of the African diaspora, I felt a certain pressure and responsibility to get it right. That was a very maturing process for me,” Jordan says. “To be very unapologetic, I had to play that role.”
A sequel to the acclaimed 2015 spinoff (it grossed $173.6 million worldwide on a $35 million budget), “Creed II” was fast-tracked by MGM in part to capitalize on the success of “Black Panther” and Jordan’s growing profile. Caple, whose feature debut was the 2016 indie film “The Land,” had his first meeting with producers around Thanksgiving last year. By the first week of January, he was in Philadelphia getting ready to shoot.
Caple preserved and expanded upon Coogler’s naturalistic approach, and the film’s best scenes unlock raw intimacies outside the ring. Especially notable is the chemistry between Jordan and Tessa Thompson, who plays Adonis’ girlfriend (“Mike feeds off of Tessa a lot,” says Caple), and the surprising pathos of the father-son relationship between Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu). In an echo of “Rocky IV,” the younger Drago is Adonis’ foe this time.
Caple credits Jordan for the film’s emotional authenticity.
“He’s genuine. Then you meet him in person and you realize he’s the same way in real life. You can’t act that or fake that. He used that as a vehicle to get where he is today,” says Caple. “Right now, he’s expanding on that with his business, with his production company, with his brand, and still being for the people in many ways.”
Jordan recently finished shooting “Just Mercy,” in which he stars as civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson. The Warner Bros. production was the first Jordan made with the inclusion policy in place.
“The set, the crew was very diverse, all very capable. It was a great experience. Hopefully other studios and other productions will follow our lead and demand the same thing from their sets,” says Jordan. “Change takes time. It’s a small step, but it’s the first step. I’m not expecting Rome to be built in a day.”
Source: Chicago Daily Herald
Black Panther made more than $1.3 Billion at the box office. It was given a positive review by 97 percent of critics. Many industry insiders have also already cited its success as a potential watershed moment for Hollywood to start approving more diverse movies and giving them substantially higher budgets. By basically any metric you want to look at, the film has to be viewed as a raging success, and yet, with the Oscars on the horizon, Black Panther stars are starting to get questioned about potential nominations, what they would mean and whether the film needs to perform with Academy Awards voters to truly get to the next level of legitimacy.
Rising star Michael B Jordan is the latest to address the rhino in the room during a recent interview with Essence, and I think his comments are very telling…
“The movie has done such a great job, broke through so many glass ceilings, and made such an impact culturally and around the world. If the Academy chooses to recognize that project for all of those reasons that’s amazing icing on the cake, but I think what the movie has done so far is truly incredible and a win all its own. I felt so accomplished doing this movie, but it’s not up to me to validate the film. So the people who make those decisions, that’s something they have to think about and figure out on their own.”
Very few people go all-in on their own movie’s Oscar chances prior to the nominations. It’s considered a little taboo to campaign too overtly (although some like Melissa Leo have famously just gone for it), and I suspect many people worry about what might happen if they try too hard and don’t get there. But there’s something larger in play with Marvel movies too. All the MCU flicks combined have only been nominated for a total of 10 Oscars, 8 of which have come in the ‘Visual Effects’ category. None of those nominations have resulted in a win. So, I’m sure I would be squeamish too, but Black Panther isn’t just a normal Marvel movie.
Even if you strip away all the buzz around it, the visuals, the costumes, the effects and many of the other below the line details of the film are really, really good. Disney is reportedly planning to push the film really hard, even at the expense of Avengers: Infinity War and even in some of the buzzier categories like Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. Even the music categories are very much in play.
I have no idea if any of those more talked about categories will pay off, but whether you think the movie was as good as advertised or not, I think most of us would agree the people who worked on creating the spectacle and the wonder behind Wakanda deserve to be recognized.
So, here’s to hoping this quote, in retrospect, comes off like a classy underplay from Michael B Jordan rather than fitting uncertainty for yet another unrecognized Marvel movie.
The junket for Creed II is taking place in what may be the most Philadelphian room since they tore down the jail under Veterans Stadium. In a swank hotel lounge overlooking Rittenhouse Square, the movie’s PR team has helpfully set up hors-d’oeuvre versions of the city’s delicacies, including a make-your-own-cheesesteak bar and a crab fries station, while the film’s trailer plays on loop. It also happens to be the same day on which the Philadelphia 76ers will debut their new Creed-inspired uniforms in a game where Michael B. Jordan will show up to support co-star Tessa Thompson ringing the ceremonial pre-game bell. In other words, it’s the right occasion to take one of Hollywood’s biggest young stars, and ask him a bunch of silly questions about the City of Brotherly Love, as well as the flood of female attention he receives, and why he had to do all those push-ups for Lupita Nyong’o.
A lot of things have happened in the world since the first Creed movie came out. The most important, obviously, is that the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
We came back here right before we shot the second one, right after the parade and it was crazy here. It was just mayhem. You could still feel the energy in the city — everybody from the transit bus drivers to the bartenders, to the meter maids all the way up to politicians and bigwigs.
You’re a producer on this movie. Was there anything that you wanted to include but didn’t?
I wanted him to have a best friend. I wanted to kind of create a kind of Paulie, in a sense. That didn’t end up in this one.
You’ve worked with Ryan Coogler three times. With Steven Caple Jr., it’s a little newer. What was the difference in their directing styles?
Ryan is very internal, very quiet. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot being said without being said with me and Ryan. I think Steven was a little more vocal. It’s not a good or bad thing, just different.
In the movie, Adonis has to decide if he’s going to fight Viktor Drago, and there’s a whole question about whether he’s doing it for someone else’s reasons, or his own. Have you ever been in a position like that with a project?
For me, I’m always a giver. I’m a pleaser, you know, a fixer. I do a lot of things for other people. That’s something that just comes with me. It’s okay, it’s who I am. Obviously everyone has their own limits, but I think I’ve found a nice little balance between not spreading myself too thin and, at the same time, helping people.
Do you have an example?
Part of the mix of the Creed movies is that Adonis is this aspirational, role-model figure, but he also has to be a real, relatable guy. Are those two goals ever in conflict?
I think there’s always … we take it a scene at a time. Like in the initial moment he found out they were pregnant, I think the real is, Oh snap, I’m not ready for this. Like, “You sure you pregnant?” But then you don’t want that taken out of context, like he’s not happy or he doesn’t want it. We still wanted him to be a proud dad. You can tell by how he runs towards the responsibility. He’s really, really excited about having a kid.
Has playing a dad made you think more about that in your own future?
My own future? I love kids, man. I can’t wait to be in the right position to start a family of my own. I’m looking forward to the day that I start my own little tribe.
You’re in the Oscar conversation for Black Panther.
I think you’re on some of the lists. You’re someone who seems very intentional about the choices you make. I was wondering how important that would be for your plans?
Honestly, it’s an honor and it’s definitely humbling. It’s not in my plan. It’s not part of the … it would be cool to win, but at the same time it doesn’t motivate me to just strive for that. I just want to tell honest stories and good movies. Be successful at that. If I get put in that conversation with other talented actors and films, I’ll take that as a plus too.
For both the Creed movies and Black Panther, you have to get very big. Does that kind of thing affect the way you feel about your own body?
Right now, I feel so small, man. I’ve lost so much weight to play [real-life lawyer] Bryan Stevenson in Just Mercy. I don’t want to look the same all the time and I can’t grow a beard, so I’ve got to find different ways to switch it up. Coming off of a project like Creed II, where Adonis is un-human like, it’s so hard to walk around like that. I’m kind of like, What is my real body? I gotta buy different clothes. I go through a period of time where I’m pretty huge, and then suits don’t fit me the right way. But I prefer being in shape. I’m about to start getting back into shape.
On the Black Panther press tour Lupita got to make you do push-ups whenever she wanted. Is that still in effect?
First of all, that was my thing. I created that. Me and Joe, my barber, we started doing this thing, on-site pushups. Just a way to keep sets fun. So you can bet on anything — “What color is your cardigan?” “It’s green.” “I disagree, it’s blue”It was definitely green. — you bet five pushups, but they’re on retainer. If I lost, you could call me up whenever you wanted within a week, ‘cause they expire in a week. You can ask for however many you want: You can go all five or you can go one at a time. But the goal is to get somebody in the most embarrassing situation. So if you’re at a floor seat of a Laker game, or if it’s four o’clock in the morning and you’re in bed, then you’ve got to get out of bed and do your pushup. It’s a fun game, and I lost a bet to her.
What was the bet?
I can’t remember. Oh, actually, I do remember but I can’t talk about it. It was a bet along the lines of DMs. She made a bet about how many DMs I got of a certain type. I feel like I won, but for the sake of the game I was a good sport. To this day she still feels like I owe her one pushup. Hopefully on this next press tour I’ll be able to get her in my pocket and you’ll see her doing pushups.
Where’s the most embarrassing place you had to do them?
We’re at the Calvin Klein fashion show, Raf Simmons’s creative vision of the set was a foot of popcorn, like everywhere. We’re sitting down at the thing and she’s like, “Mike, give me one.” I’m like, “Oh snap, that’s good.” She learned. So I had to do pushups in the middle of a fashion show in a foot of popcorn.
When I told people I was interviewing you, basically every woman I talked to, including my sister, asked me if I would give you their numbers. I’m not going to do that, but I was wondering how cognizant of that type of thing are you?
I’ve become more aware of it as time goes on.
How does that make you feel?
It’s a humbling feeling, you know. I’m a pretty quiet guy, so you know, the attention is welcome. It’s all good. I appreciate it. I’ll take that position.
Do you have to worry about feeling yourself too much?
No, no. I’ve got people around me, from my family to my best friends and stuff and they all hate. They don’t care what all I’m doing. They take pride in trying to deflate me as much as possible. We heckle each other, we call bullshit, so it’s good.
There’s one more thing I wanted to do before we’re done. Because I feel like these are becoming very iconic Philadelphia movies, I wanted to get your opinion on other iconic Philadelphia figures. And if there’s one you don’t have an opinion on, we can skip. So first: Sly Stallone.
Legend. Icon. He started the Rocky franchise, he set the blueprint to boxing movies, and passed the torch to my franchise. He’s always dropping gems of wisdom.
What kind of gems?
Just anything business, in front of the camera or behind the camera. The art of selling a punch. How movie fights are supposed to go, all that good stuff. He’s always willing to tell or share.
The future of Philly. Last of a dying breed, as far as true big men, but can still come out and shoot the three, stretch the defense out. I think personality on the million. He’s so funny and entertaining. Confident to a fault sometimes, but great guy and cool dude.
Confident as well. Super talented. He’s got to work on the shot.
He’s got to take the shot.
Yeah, I know, but he’s a pass person. I love that about him. Once the defense has to respect the shot, I think that is going to make him that much greater. Future of the league, for sure.
Gritty, the Flyers mascot.
I didn’t know she was from Philly. Tina Fey is dope. I like her a lot, her personality and her sense of humor. She always makes me laugh. I just think she’s a good human.
I love Bradley Cooper. I got a chance to meet him and become cool with him over the years. Funny, multi-talented, stepping behind the camera. I can’t wait to see A Star is Born, I haven’t had a chance yet. I hear it’s phenomenal.
MBJ sat down with Ebro in the Morning to promote Creed II. They discussed his thoughts being a sex symbol, whether his character Erik Killmonger will be back for the Black Panther sequel, the death of Stan Lee, and his upcoming projects.
Black Panther has risen to plenty of challenges, shattering every expectation to far surpass the ticket sales of any film by a Black director, with a cast populated by African and African-American performers, on its way to a $1.3 billion global gross. But there’s one challenge remaining: can the film overcome a clear Academy prejudice and get a fair shake as a Best Picture candidate?
It’s a prejudice that, for once, is nothing to do with race. If history is a guide, what Black Panther must overcome is the kneejerk reaction of Academy voters to dismiss superhero movies outright. If it gets its Best Picture nomination, it’d be a first. Not even Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy cracked that recognition, even as it spurred the Academy to broaden the Best Picture category from five to a possible 10 nominees. The challenge facing Marvel and Disney this season is preventing Black Panther from being marginalized as just another high roller in the Marvel Cinematic Universe assembly line. It is so much more.
Beyond the big business, Black Panther is as landmark for the superhero genre as Get Out was for horror, tackling deep-seated issues, often for the first time in mainstream cinema. When Wakandan king T’Challa addresses countries at the UN about nations building bridges and not barriers, it’s hard not to see his speech as an answer to Trump’s isolationism.
Among the bona fides worth considering this awards season: after playing color barrier-breakers Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall, Chadwick Boseman brings the same quiet dignity to T’Challa, convincingly infusing intellect and physicality to a character first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in recognition of the changing world of 1960s Civil Rights reforms. Both in front of and behind the camera, Black Panther featured a strong contingent of women, like production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who indelibly stamped the film as a celebration of African culture and created a living, breathing world in Wakanda. Michael B. Jordan, making his third film with Ryan Coogler after Fruitvale Station and Creed, left an indelible mark as Erik Killmonger, turning the grudge-holding cousin of T’Challa and rival for the Wakandan throne into a whirlwind of rage without making himself a scenery-chewer.
Black Panther’s living, breathing scale comes from its depiction of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, which brims with technological advancement and a profound connection to its imagined history and culture.
But what may not be evident on screen—except in the most subconscious ways—is how profoundly everybody involved in its creation invested pieces of their personal journeys into Black Panther. As they searched for their own identities as African-American descendants of the continent of Africa, theirs is a celebration of a place so often depicted as volatile or violent. In the mix are subtle infusions of the Black Power movement, the unforgivable history of the slave era and the ravaging of Africa’s natural resources. All that wrapped up in a Marvel movie destined for maximum reach.
Ryan, what did you see as the biggest opportunity—and challenge—of taking the reins of a film of this scale, tackling issues this deep-seated while addressing a huge audience?
Ryan Coogler: A lot of the challenge was personal. I had only done two feature films so far and never worked with a budget this large. Beyond the subject matter, just that alone is enough to stress you out. Then, a studio that hadn’t really had a film that didn’t work in a business and critical sense, and not wanting to be the one who failed in trying to get the theme right.
Coogler: For all of us, it was: what does it mean to be African? When I was approached, I had never been to the continent. Even though my ancestors are from there, I view myself through the lens of being African from an African-American context and being part of the diaspora. I wanted so badly to get that right and questioned if I was the right person for the job. The insecurity I felt all the way through the process stemmed from one or all of those things. Each day, we conquered those things by bringing on people, our key collaborators, department heads, and eventually our cast. We shared the burden of all of those things, and through our own individual perspectives, we got through it together.
What was your connection to Africa before you started this? Stories told by your parents as you grew up in Oakland, CA?
Coogler: Yeah. When you come from where I’m from, the way you learn about the continent is through your elders and usually in the context of the slavery conversation. The “how did we get here?” conversation is something that is alluded to in the start of our film.
With the short history that introduced the Black Panther Africa mythology through drawings that included slave ships?
Coogler: Yeah. The tough part about it is, you find out you’re learning about this place from people who haven’t been there themselves, due to circumstance. I remember having conversations about the continent with my grandmother, who’s 90 now and just had a chance to go a few months ago. She lived her entire life up to that point in the United States, so you’re hearing about a place through her idealized lens; an almost fantastical lens because it’s often the flipside to the deepest negative story you could have, which is the story of how we actually got here. So you hear about this other place that has to be counterbalanced as being beautiful and perfect and peaceful; the idealized version of Africa that lives in the head of a lot of African-Americans, especially when you’re young. And one that runs contrary to what I saw in the media about the continent—overwhelmingly negative stuff—when I was growing up. It was never the full story. So there was definitely an emotional connection; one of pride, one of mystery, and also one of shame when you look at how it’s portrayed.
Before writing the script with Joe Robert Cole, you spent almost a month in Africa. Will Smith once said he didn’t understand how Africa had changed Muhammad Ali until Smith went over there to prepare to play him. What did that trip mean to your own search for identity, and the formation of the film?
Coogler: Growing up African-American, there’s an anger that exists in you, the more knowledge that you get about history and what happened to your ancestors. On this quest, you find out why you didn’t grow up in this place, one that tends to be hostile towards people who look like you, and towards your culture. So I guess I had 29 years’ worth of that anger and this deep sense of loss. Because the African-American culture that we have, it’s something we built from scraps. We were cut off from our religion, from our language on the continent. Systematically, that was broken and then what we call African-American culture, is kind of bastardized in what you’re taught by white media. You’re taught that from other Black people and when you come in contact with Africans from that continent that you are different, and not really a part of its history.
So when I actually went to the continent for the first time, what surprised me most was that I found I had so much in common with people from the continent. I spent time with Lupita’s family in Kenya. I went to South Africa first, and it blew my mind that I looked so much like the people there. If I closed my mouth and didn’t talk, people would come up to me and speak their own native languages and expect me to answer. That was extremely moving. I discovered that a lot of the rituals and cultural practices we’re doing as African-Americans, they are originally from the continent, and my ancestors actually did hold on to them. They call it different names but we still hold parts of that in our history, our heritage. It replaced a lot of that anger I felt with hope. It put me at ease and made me feel like I had a bigger family than I ever thought I did.
And changed your sense of self-identity?
Coogler: Absolutely. Yeah. Afterwards, I came home and took… you ever heard of that African Ancestry site?
Lupita Nyong’o: Ancestry.com?
Coogler: Not that one.
Michael B. Jordan: The 23andMe one?
Nyong’o: Oh, the AfricanAncestry.com one that Chadwick is always talking about.
Coogler: Yeah. Chad put me on it. They have a huge database of ethnic genetic information from the continent and they compare and contrast it to the information you give with a swab. They can tie you to different ethnic groups and tell you where your ancestors most likely were from. It turns out my wife [Zinzi Evans] and I found out that I’m from the Tikar people from Cameroon and that her people were Tikar as well. On my other side, I’m Yoruba from Nigeria. It was crazy to find that out.
The film just connected me to that continent. We all tried to tap into that feeling with this film; we talked about it all the time on the set. We had many different people from the two continents, and everybody had a stake in the film and a sense that this had got to be right because our families were going to watch this. People I’m connected to are going to see this. It has got to tell our story and tell it with authenticity and dignity.
Lupita, when you were growing up in Kenya, aspiring to do the things you’re doing now, how did the movies you watched influence your sense of self-identity?
Nyong’o: You’d be surprised how prevalent American cinema is around the world. I grew up watching predominantly American cinema and British television. And Mexican television. A lot of my influences were foreign, and worlds I did not know. I grew up watching Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal and Bruce Lee, because we had a lot of these fantastical action films. I also grew up watching The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. When you watch things from other worlds it expands your imagination and it connects you to humanity in a more empathetic way because you’re experiencing people that look nothing like you and yet they’re going through things that you’re going through. Like the Von Trapp children, who can’t get their father to pay them attention. I felt that way about my dad, you know.
What’s the impact of consuming culture that largely excludes you?
Nyong’o: It draws the world closer to you, but what it also does is it estranges you from yourself because you do not have the opportunities to see yourself reflected on screen. It breeds this idea that to be something else is better than to be yourself. So you’re striving and aspiring for things that are totally out of your grasp. A film like this was so important and so vital for me to be a part of and to commit to, because it was offering a mirror that I just never had.
I went to Nigeria in May, shortly after the film came out. Black Panther was still in the cinema. That longevity doesn’t happen on the continent. It’s not our primary source of entertainment, because watching films in cinemas is extremely expensive. But people were going in droves. I met people who went with their mother, their grandmother, and their children. It was totally bringing in different generations.
One man in his 60s turned to me and said, “I am so mad because I didn’t know I needed that; a reflection of myself.” It was such a powerful validation to so many, including me, who worked on it. What I think then it does for people who are not Black and who are not African is that it offers them the opportunity that Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal offered me. To see we are not any different. So it’s so important to have that cross pollination and that’s what this film did.
I grew up a white Marvel Comics kid and never thought about how it would be to not see heroes who share my skin color. The overwhelming success of Black Panther might change that for future generations. Michael and Ryan, you guys were also comic book kids. How did a lack of Black characters make you feel, and what did Black Panther mean to you as the rare exception?
Coogler: That’s how I found Black Panther. I was into comics, coming up in the late-’80s, early-’90s, and there was a comic book shop right across the street from my elementary school. We would go there in between school and basketball practice. We would read the books. We didn’t have money to buy them, but they’d let us thumb through them. I went in and asked the guy, “Are there any Black comic book characters in here?” I really was searching for it and that’s how I found out about Panther. He took me over and showed me some issues that Panther was in. He kind of pitched me who he was and so I learned about him at an early age, literally seeking out—there wasn’t a word for it yet, but representation—I was looking for it there. That’s how I found him.
Jordan: Similar thing for me, but I didn’t have a place like that. I watched the X-Men cartoons—Saturday morning cartoons—and that got me into comic books. There was a pool hall in Montclair, New Jersey. My dad would take me, and he would teach me how to shoot pool. There was a comic book store downstairs right next to an old Blockbuster Video store where we would rent movies and stuff. That was our tradition. He would take me and my little bro to go play pool and we would stop downstairs and grab a movie and I could get a comic book. I’d go through them and try to find different things I liked. Black Panther was one of them because he was one of the few that looked like me. Black Panther and Bishop [from X-Men]. Bishop was one of my favorite characters growing up.
Coogler: With the mullet and the curl and the tat on his face?
Jordan: Yeah. Those were ones that I really connected with. Black Panther was just always that dude. I guess at that age you are not really connecting the dots with the whole representation aspect, and it wasn’t something I knew I needed at that time, but once I realized that’s what I was missing out on…
Now that I’m making films, I want to produce and create more projects that are aspirational. A guy like me could be a doctor, an astronaut. So when this project came up, everything was magnified. It was an intense feeling; an opportunity even if wasn’t so specific or articulated. But a feeling that this generation needs to see themselves on the screen because this is what it’s going to do for them. This Halloween, we saw all these young kids, women, little girls and boys dressed as Killmonger or Nakia. You feel like, man, this is what they’ve been waiting for. They didn’t even know they needed this. They didn’t understand what representation could do for a person, in moving forward and having dreams. Lupita, when did you become aware of Black Panther?
Nyong’o: When Chadwick got cast. Back in 2014. I was like, “Oh, there’s a Black superhero? That’s cool.” It goes back to the difference for me when we talk about being aware of people that look like you in the media and it being so rare. I loved comic books but I grew up reading Tintin and Popeye. I grew up in a predominantly Black world, but in my little child mind anything worth writing about was white. I remember drawing my family and coloring them with beige because all my children’s books had beige characters. I thought that was how you draw. That’s how unaware I was of how warped it was. Those were the images that I had. My dream to want to be an actor was born really young. I watched The Sound of Music and said, “I want to be her!” I had no problem connecting with people that didn’t look like me. Until I saw The Color Purple and I’m like, “Wait a minute, these people look exactly like me. They have kinky hair like mine.” Sometimes the hunger to see yourself is totally silent and unconscious until you finally see it, and then it’s like a floodgate opens.
Jordan: You want to make up for lost time. You want to catch up to that.
Nyong’o: I had no problem, because I didn’t grow up in a country whose structure was racial in the same way that America is. So the ability to connect was straightforward until such a time that it wasn’t. There’s a lot of hurt when it comes to all African peoples. [Ryan and Michael] have explained the African-American situation. For Africans, Africa has been a continent that has been exploited often, in all sorts of ways. A lot has been taken from the continent and one thing that Africa does not receive is the acknowledgment for the things it has contributed, way back to the origins of the world as we know it today. This goes in all areas. You’re talking resources. You’re talking culture. You’re talking art. All of it. I grew up with a deficit of an appreciation for my culture. There is also a lot of condescension that we experience from the world. There’s a lot of, I would say, underestimation from people from the continent and it’s something that we grapple with all the time.
Coogler: There’s surprise when someone sees you’re intelligent.
Nyong’o: Like, “You mean there are skyscrapers on the continent? Wait a minute, you’ve got Wi-Fi?” Even though, right now, mobile commerce in Africa is more advanced than it is here for certain. There is also a very comfortable ignorance that people are never called on. It’s not OK to not know about England and the River Thames, but the idea that you’d know anything about the Nile and where it starts and where it ends, that’s not expected of anyone in the world. Even to this day I hear doctors that refer to Africa as a country. We had to grapple with a narrative of a country that has isolated itself from the continent, and from the world, and what does that mean for an African nation to turn its back on its own continent? But it is also self-loving and…
Nyong’o: And totally independent. There’s something very aspirational about that. The fact that you could have a completely contemporary, traditional society that is operating on a level that is aspirational for everybody else. That was the healing factor. That’s the thing that I feel we wanted to make sure we highlighted and celebrated, that in a sense this is an incubator for an Africa that will never exist but one that we can reclaim in our minds and aspire to be. Bringing those sensitivities to the table to make a film representative of African peoples—both African and African-American—that both parties would watch and feel like it was authentic to their story. We were successful in that. When I was in Nigeria, an elderly man said to me, “How are my cousins Boseman and Jordan?” I’ve never heard that sentiment before. In a sense, the film allowed us to meet in the middle of the Atlantic, saying we are cousins. We are related and there is a connection to be made and to be fostered.
Michael, Killmonger was a much more grounded and layered villain than we’re used to in superhero cinema. What went into keeping him from being a one-dimensional bad guy?
Jordan: I can’t take credit for that. It was all the research and work Ryan and Joe Robert Cole put into crafting this character, understanding the pain that we have because we are African-American and we’re here. Erik became a product of his environment, he’s what circumstance and his country made him. As a kid he heard stories of Wakanda, this place he’s never been to, that is in his blood, but which he doesn’t even really know exists because he is in Oakland. How could Wakanda exist for someone like me?
That hope being taken away from him at a very young age sent him down a path of where he decided to become the best version of himself under his circumstances, and he’s going to find this place by any means necessary. If you have empathy for Killmonger, it’s because you understand his motive. You understand how much pain he has in this heart, and that he wants the injustice done to him to be heard. He doesn’t care if he dies. He had to make an impact on T’Challa. At the end of the movie, you see him go back into Oakland and buy those buildings. So Killmonger did win, in my eyes. It wasn’t about living or dying. It’s about just getting the point across and having a conversation, one that has never been had on screen before. About what it means to be African, seeing what African-Americans have been through.
I go through that same type of pain. I know what oppression feels like. I know what that is. Maybe we’re not so different. I think that’s one of the biggest takeaways from the movie. To bring some humanity to somebody who was constantly looked at as not human.
Did you find yourself having a similar transformative experience when you visited the continent?
Jordan: I did, but not in preparation for this movie. I had a chance to go a few years ago when I shot this movie Chronicle out there in Cape Town, South Africa. Crazy; that location for a movie set in Seattle. That was my first time going and honestly, just hearing Ryan talk about his experiences and his anticipation of going, my experience was similar. I expected to see something else. My parents are pretty aware. They’ve never been to the continent either. I’d always been told as a kid stories about Nigeria and the Yoruba culture and Kenya and Ghana. I have a lot of family and friends from Ghana and so a pretty 360-degree understanding of it, but all that was nothing compared to actually going there and being around your people and visiting Robben Island and that prison where Nelson Mandela spent so many years, and learning about apartheid that isn’t in the textbooks. Which is a very narrow window of what they want you to know, and kind of how to feel and view yourself.
To be able to go and visit the shanty towns and see what life is like over there and what they’re going through, but then also being able to see very strong, Black, powerful, wealthy, educated people. People will actually ask, “Did you see wild animals walking around?” No, not at all. It’s actually a big, huge city with tall skyscrapers and buildings and all that other stuff. I was 23 or 24, and going over made a big impact on me. And then to be a part of this movie, giving me the point of view from the African-American perspective, it was really important to me. I took it very seriously and I am going back. For Thanksgiving.
Nyong’o: Where are you going?
Nyong’o: You haven’t had enough of South Africa, I see.
Jordan: No, I know, I’ve got to get up north.
Nyong’o: You’ve got to come east! Come on! You can’t sit across from me and not go to Kenya.
Jordan: I know!
It sounds like there’s a dinner invite in there somewhere.
Nyong’o: It’s an open invitation.
Coogler: Take that up, Mike. Her family is amazing.
Michael B. Jordan talked to us about relating to his “Black Panther” character Killmonger, the return of Adonis Creed in “Creed II,” what it’s like being a role model, and inclusion riders.
“Open Late” is switching things up and headed to ComplexCon. Peter Rosenberg sits down with Emmy-nominee Michael B Jordan to chat Black Panther, the upcoming Creed II, and why he’s getting politically active this year. As always, AraabMuzik holds it down on the MPCs.