It’s been that way for Coogler ever since he grew up in the Bay Area, when his parents would throw movie-marathon house parties for him, his two brothers, and their cousins. “I was watching high-quality stuff at an early age,” Coogler said, crediting his mother, Joselyn, for helping him become a cinephile. “We used to joke and call her IMDb, because before IMDb even came out, she used to say, ‘You see that actress there in the back corner? She played this person in that TV show.’”
When Coogler speaks about the crucial people who have helped him develop as a filmmaker, many of them are women, including his wife, Zinzi, who weighs in on casting decisions, and a college teacher, Rosemary Graham, who encouraged Coogler to take up screenwriting and still reads many of his drafts. According to Jordan, his longtime friend and muse, giving female perspectives priority is a throughline that began in Coogler’s childhood and extends throughout his work.
“The strongest warriors in Wakanda are the women, and the smartest,” Jordan noted, likening that lineage to the matriarchies found in many African-American communities. “That’s how it is in our households and our culture, and that’s what our family dynamic is made out of.”
Even today, Coogler continues to live in the Bay Area near his parents. “I’m thankful to have a big family that’s still honest with me,” he said, noting that “Black Panther” pivots on the conflict between T’Challa and Jordan’s orphaned Killmonger, both of whom he can sympathize with. “The fundamental difference between those two characters,” Coogler said, “is that one grew up with a community that loved him and nurtured him, and the other had the opposite.”
Having been so nurtured, perhaps it’s no surprise that Coogler wants to pay it forward. In 2007, Coogler, about to begin film school at the University of Southern California, told the East Bay Times about what he hoped to achieve in Hollywood. Instead of settling down in Los Angeles someday, his goal was to bring the film industry back to the impoverished parts of Richmond and Oakland, where he grew up.
“It will be something the people can point to and kids can see it, saying, ‘I can do that,’” the young Coogler said then.