With uniformly glowing reviews and more than enough pre-ordered tickets to have an anticipated record breaking $160 million opening weekend, Marvel’s 18th superhero epic Black Panther is breaking new ground.
Filmmaker Ryan Coogler is Marvel Studio’s first African-American director, and the movie is on track to be among the most successful films with a predominantly black cast, ever. A cursory search of the hashtag #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe on Twitter is an exuberant illustration of how necessary and valuable on-screen representation is.
You might think that a $200 million production with a $150 million promotion budget wouldn’t allow a lot of room for creativity, but interviews with Coogler and the cast prove otherwise. There is also the sense that mentorship was an integral part of telling the story.
Related: The Success of ‘Wonder Woman’ Speaks Volumes About Opportunity
In conversation with The New York Times, Coogler said that without champions at the studio who understood why the character was so important to so many people, the film that is hitting theaters this weekend would have never been made.
“This is my second time working in the studio system, and they say it’s the studio system, but it’s really the people system. It’s who’s running the studio? How are they running it?,” Coogler told the Times. “When you look at Disney with [Tendo Nagenda, executive vice president for production at Walt Disney Studios, and Nate Moore, a producer at Marvel Studios and an executive producer of Black Panther], it’s a place that’s interested in representation, not just for the sake of representation, but representation because that’s what works, that’s what’s going to make quality stuff that the world is going to embrace, that’s what leads to success.”
In an interview with Variety, Coogler also shared how he made sure to convince the higher ups at Marvel to let him assemble his own team, and brought with him the artists that had made his other films so acclaimed.
Related: Marvel’s Content Director: Your Superpower Is Your Unique Voice and Understanding Your Value
He hired Creed production designer Hannah Beachler, frequent editor Michael Shawver and Fruitvale Station director of photography Rachel Morrison. Morrison just broke some ground herself when she became the first woman to be nominated for an Oscar for best cinematography this year. Coogler also cast Michael B. Jordan, his star in Fruitvale Station and Creed as the film’s villain, Killmonger.
And in post-production, it is evident that the relationship between Coogler and director Ava DuVernay, whose film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time — coming out in March and also being made by Disney — served as an important support system for the both of them, while they worked to perfect their giant tentpole movies and get them over the finish line.
“Ava is like my sister,” Coogler told Variety. “I see her as our leader. The young filmmakers coming up right now, welook at Ava for our next move.” And clearly the feeling is mutual.
We edited our films across the hall from each other for 8 months. We talked in our edit bays, on walks around the lot. About our films, our dreams. Tonight, his comes true. On my way to the #BlackPanther premiere with a full heart for my fam, director extraordinaire #RyanCoogler! pic.twitter.com/lrxBNRsqeC
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 30, 2018
The biggest lesson you can learn from the soon-to-be box office dominance of Black Panther? Your friends can be some of your best mentors.
Are you going to see the movie this weekend? Let us know in the comments.