After Black Panther, is it right to steer promising young directors to huge franchise films?
Black Panther, following its opening weekend, is a full-on phenomenon. The first-ever film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series featuring a black superhero and predominantly black cast, the release of Black Panther is clearly a watershed moment for many African-American film-goers and superhero fans of all ages. But the film also has so much appeal to the general public that it’s shattered all kinds of box office records, with a lot more likely to come.
While Black Panther has been praised for its outstanding cast, amazing world-building and lavish costumes and production design, the man who put it all together is director Ryan Coogler. Coogler is just 31 years old, and he’s kicked off his directing career by making three massively well-received films- 2013’s Fruitvale Station, 2015’s Creed and now Black Panther. Despite the presence of actor Michael B. Jordan as a constant, the three films are very different from one another in terms of genre and setting, but they’re all uncommonly great.
Black Panther is a very unique case, and Coogler the exception to the rule.
It’s very clear, from the artistic and financial success of Black Panther, that Ryan Coogler was the right director for Black Panther, and that Black Panther was the right film for him to make at this stage of his career. However, that’s not always the case when it comes to talented young directors who are brought into high-profile franchise filmmaking. Black Panther is a very unique case, and Coogler the exception to the rule.
“He should direct Star Wars!”
…what I don’t agree with is the notion, that’s absolutely pervasive in film culture these days, that if a young director makes a great debut film, the next logical step is to link them to a Star Wars, Marvel, or DCEU movie.
It’s been something of a pet peeve of mine for the past few years: Whenever a new director emerges with an outstanding film, the assumption in much of film culture is to speculate that that director should instantly be put in charge of the next Star Wars, DCEU, or Marvel film. This is an attitude that assumes studio-produced tent pole movies are the be-all and end-all of what movies are, as though unique and independent cinema were a mere feeder system to the next adventures of Luke Skywalker and/or Batman.
I thought about that when I saw this tweet, a few weeks ago:
Hey how about Patty Jenkins taking on Star Wars? Hey how about Jordan Peele taking on Star Wars? Hey how about Guillermo Del Toro taking on Star Wars? Hey how about Ryan Coogler taking on Star Wars? Hey how about Taika Waititi taking on Star Wars? Hey how about Ava DuVernay ta-
The argument – that it’s time to start considering other voices, other than merely white and male ones, for huge franchises like Star Wars– is one I absolutely agree with. But what I don’t agree with is the notion, that’s absolutely pervasive in film culture these days, that if a young director makes a great debut film, the next logical step is to link them to a Star Wars, Marvel, or DCEU movie. It contributes to the notion that those movies are the ones that actually count, and that the best movies of recent years are a mere feeder system for franchise blockbusters.
I thoroughly disagree with this. The sky is just about the limit for talents like Jordan Peele, Ava DuVernay, and Barry Jenkins. It’s almost disrespectful to the unique, outstanding films they’ve made already, to suggest that, say, Get Out is merely a prelude to what Jordan Peele could do with a “real” movie, like the next Star Wars sequel (not that Peele wouldn’t make a perfectly great Star Wars movie), but Get Out is a film that only Jordan Peele could have directed. I want to see Jordan Peele make more films that only he could direct.
Leave aside that the Star Wars franchise, in its Disney incarnation, has been taking young and talented directors (Phil Miller and Chris Lord, Gareth Edwards) and spitting them out, and that directors making films for Disney don’t have nearly the autonomy of vision that, say, A24 or Blumhouse filmmakers do.
…Get Out is a film that only Jordan Peele could have directed. I want to see Jordan Peele make more films that only he could direct.
One of the great things about the success of Black Panther is that it gives Coogler even more clout to make the projects he wants; he’s already announced his next film is Wrong Answer, a film about an academic scandal in Atlanta that stars Jordan and features a script by Ta-Nehesi Coates, the acclaimed author and essayist who authored a run of Black Panther comics.
Hollywood will likely draw many lessons from the success of Black Panther, related to everything from representation to world-building to the unlikely mass appeal of Afrofuturism. Another lesson is that it was the perfect marriage, at the perfect time, between director and source material, and that every blockbuster movie is the best use of the talents of a top new filmmaker.