First time director Ryan Coogler has become the hottest name in Hollywood since his film “Fruitvale” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year. The 26-year-old Oakland native has crafted a touching portrait of Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old father who was killed by BART police officers in 2009.
“Fruitvale” has been picked up for major distribution and should be in a theater near you soon, but how much do you know about this up-and-coming talent? Here are five things you should know.
1. Filmmaking is his therapy— Being a young black man in America comes wih its own headaches and frustrations, but Coogler has found a way to channel his passion. When speaking to the L.A. Times, Coogler confessed “[films are] my outlet for my fears, for the things that make me angry or frustrated, for messages I want to get out.”
2. Ryan Coogler is Oscar Grant— The young filmmaker feels he has a special connection with Oscar Grant, who was his age when he as killed. “I saw the videos almost at once. He was dressed like me and my friends dress, he looked like us. It was kind of like it happened to me, or someone I know.”
3. From astro turf to the red carpet— Coogler was on a football scholarship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, CA where he signed up for a creative writing class to fulfill his general studies requirements. His professor pulled Ryan aside and told him “Your writing is very visual. I think you should go to Hollywood and write screenplays.” Taking his instructor’s encouragement to heart, Coogler took many writing and filmmaking classes and years later, had his “Fruitvale” screenplay accepted into the 2012 Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab.
4. Ryan was once homeless– The inspiration for Coogler’s films come from everyday street life. While living out of his car the first semester of film school, he shot “Fig”, a 2011 film short about a prostitute trying to leave the life and keep her daughter. Coogler told Filmmaker Magazine, “That film is from deep research. I spent Christmas break on the streets and got a lot of stories.”
5. Black Hollywood has got Ryan Coogler’s back-– “Fruitvale” has some serious industry pedigree behind it. Oscar winners Forest Whitaker (“Last King of Scotland”) and Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) are using their Hollywood influence to help Coogler bring Oscar Grant’s tragic story to the masses. Whitaker met with Coogler and was so impressed with the young man’s strong social conscious, he decided to produce “Fruitvale” through his company, Significant Productions. Spencer, who was cast to play Oscar Grant’s mother, is also a producer of the film.
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