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Oakland native Ryan Kyle Coogler (born May 23, 1986) is an American film director and screenwriter. His first feature film, Fruitvale Station (2013), won the top audience and grand jury awards in the U.S. dramatic competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. He has since co-written and directed the seventh film in the Rocky series, Creed (2015), and the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Panther (2018). He is considered to be one of the best film directors and screenwriters of the 2010's, whose works have received critical acclaim and commercial success. In 2013, Time named Coogler to their list of the 30 people under 30 who are changing the world. He frequently collaborates with actor Michael B. Jordan, who has appeared in all of his feature films.
Coogler was born on May 23, 1986 in Oakland, California. His mother, Joselyn (née Thomas), is a community organizer, and his father, Ira Coogler, is a juvenile hall probation counselor. Both parents graduated from California State University, Hayward. He has two brothers, Noah and Keenan. His uncle, Clarence Thomas, is a third-generation Oakland longshoreman, and the former secretary treasurer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Coogler lived in Oakland, until age eight, when he moved to Richmond, California. During his youth, he ran track and played football. He went to Saint Mary's College High School, a private Catholic school in Berkeley, California, and was good at math and science. He started his college journey at Saint Mary's College of California, on a football scholarship as a redshirt wide receiver his freshman semester intending to study chemistry. The football players were encouraged to take a creative writing course. Coogler's teacher on this course, English professor Rosemary Graham, praised his work and said it was very visual, and encouraged him to pursue screenwriting.
After Saint Mary's canceled its football program in March 2004, he transferred and earned a scholarship to play at and attend Sacramento State, where in his four years he grabbed 112 receptions for 1,213 yards and 6 touchdowns. At Sacramento, he majored in finance and took as many film classes as he could fit in with the rigors of college football. Following graduation he attended USC School of Cinematic Arts, where he made a series of short films.
While at USC, Coogler directed four short films, three of which won or were nominated for various awards: Locks (2009), which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and won the Dana and Albert Broccoli Award for Filmmaking Excellence; Fig (2011), which was nominated for an Outstanding Independent Short Film by the Black Reel Awards; The Sculptor(2011), and Gap (2011), which won the Jack Nicholson Award for Achievement in Directing, and had a screenplay written by Carol S. Lashof.
Coogler's first feature-length film, Fruitvale Station (originally titled Fruitvale), tells the story of the last 24 hours of the life of Oscar Grant, who was shot to death by a police officer at Oakland's Fruitvale BART station on January 1, 2009. The film was developed and produced by Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker. "I've worked with a number of truly unique voices, true auteurs," Whitaker said of Coogler, "and I can tell when I'm talking to one."
After the film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the top audience and grand jury awards in the U.S. dramatic competition, The Weinstein Company acquired the distribution rights for approximately US$2 million. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the award for Best First Film.
Following its release, the film won numerous awards and critical acclaim, including Best First Feature from the Independent Spirit Awards, Breakthrough Director at the Gotham Awards, Best Directorial Debut from the National Board of Review, and Best First Film at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, among others. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called the film "a gut punch of a movie" and "an unstoppable cinematic force". A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote that Coogler's "hand-held shooting style evokes the spiritually alert naturalism of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne". Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called it "a compelling debut" and "a powerful dramatic feature film".
Fruitvale Station grossed over $17 million worldwide after its theatrical run. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a score of 94% based on 195 reviews, with a critical consensus that reads, "Passionate and powerfully acted, Fruitvale Station serves as a celebration of life, a condemnation of death, and a triumph for star Michael B. Jordan." The film appeared on several critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2013.
For the film, Coogler won the New Generation Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and a Best Director award from the African-American Film Critics Association. The film's star Michael B. Jordan received an award at the African-American Film Critics Association ceremony for Breakout Performance. Tessa Thompson also won at the ceremony receiving the Best Supporting Actress award. Sylvester Stallone won the Best Supporting Actor award at the Golden Globes for his role in the film. Creed has also won one of the "Best or Top 10 Films of the Year" awards from the National Board of Review, the Boston Online Film Critics Association and the African-American Film Critics Association.
In January 2016, Coogler signed on to co-write and direct the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Panther. The film, starring Chadwick Boseman as the titular character, began production in January 2017, and was released in 2018. Michael B. Jordan appears as the main antagonist Erik Killmonger, having thus starred in all of Cooler's films.
Upon release, the film was a commercial and critical success. Rotten Tomatoes' critical consensus reads, "Black Panther elevates superhero cinema to thrilling new heights while telling one of the MCU's most absorbing stories—and introducing some of its most fully realized characters." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called Black Panther, "a jolt of a movie" and said "in its emphasis on black imagination, creation and liberation, the movie becomes an emblem of a past that was denied and a future that feels very present. And in doing so opens up its world, and yours, beautifully." Brian Truitt of USA Today awarded the film four out of four stars and called it Marvel Studios' best origin film since Guardians of the Galaxy. The film was also noted for its representation of black people and subject matter related to Afrofuturism. Black Panther delivered the fifth largest opening of all-time and the second highest four-day gross in history.
Other works and future projects
Coogler also served as an executive producer on the ESPN 30 for 30 film The Day the Series Stopped, about Game Three of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics, when an earthquake shook the Bay Area to its core.
In January 2013, Coogler said he was working on a graphic novel and a young adult novel about undisclosed subject matter.
Coogler will work with Jordan for a fourth time in the upcoming film Wrong Answer, based on the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.
Coogler has worked since age 21 as a counselor with incarcerated youth at San Francisco's Juvenile Hall, following in the footsteps of his father, who has long shared the same occupation.
He married Zinzi Evans in 2016.