African-American director Ryan Coogler said Thursday he “never imagined” living long enough to make his groundbreaking superhero smash-hit “Black Panther”, having grown up in one of the most violent cities in the US.
In Oakland, “death is constantly around us to the point where we are comfortable with it,” the star filmmaker — who celebrates his 32nd birthday this month — said at the film festival in Cannes where he received a standing ovation.
“When I turned 30, I almost had a crisis because I never imagined myself being that age… 25 is the magic number — you’re either dead or in jail by that time.
“I saw a lot of evidence of good people who didn’t make it past that age, whether they went to prison or got murdered,” he told a packed audience, which included Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck whose documentary “I’m not Your Negro” was nominated for an Oscar last year.
Coogler’s blockbuster features an almost exclusively black cast led by actor Chadwick Boseman as the first non-white superhero to get his own standalone movie.
The Marvel action blockbuster — which was screened on the beach in Cannes this week — has already earned over a billion dollars at the global box office, making it one of top 10 highest grossing films of all time.
“I grew tired of reading comic books about white superheroes and the black people stood just on the side,” said Coogler of Boseman’s character who rules over the fictional African nation of Wakanda.
The country also subverts the continent’s stereotype as a victim by presenting a wealthy, never-colonised utopia doing its own soul-searching over taking in refugees from poorer nations.
“The slave trade represented a type of death for us, the death of who we were. Who we are now was born when they strapped chains on our ancestors,” Coogler told engrossed listeners, among them also Canadian R&B sensation The Weeknd.
“The film was about acknowledging that and reclaiming that (part) of history as well.”
His comments come on the back of a major controversy sparked by US rapper Kanye West earlier this month when he described the enslavement of African Americans over centuries as a “choice”.
The remark drew fierce criticism from other celebrities like Will.i.am. who called the comment “ignorant”.
US director and activist Spike Lee, whose new film “BlacKkKlansman” is up for a Palme d’Or in Cannes, said he was “praying for Kanye”.