Ryan Coogler explains how visiting real African countries influenced the making of ‘Black Panther’

His first trip to the Motherland was in preparation of Black Panther

Ryan Cooler thegrio.com
Director Ryan Coogler attends the ‘Black Panther’ BFI preview screening held at BFI Southbank in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

Ryan Coogler‘s first trip to Africa was in preparation for his blockbuster smash Black Panther. As an African American helming a movie about a fictional African nation, Coogler has understandably complicated feelings about the Motherland.

On Variety’s podcast “Playback,” the Oakland native shared how his inaugural journey to Africa shaped the way he approached Black Panther.

“You see representations of this place in media, and a lot of times, the representations that you see are sources of shame,” Coogler says. “You see starving children, people that are in need of aid from other places, strife — they aren’t things that will make you feel proud. What I discovered — it’s kind of what I knew all along — is that to be African just means to be human.”

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He visited South Africa, Lesotho, and Kenya–where he was hosted by Lupita Nyong’o’s family. He was inspired by the natural beauty, the languages, and of course, the people and the way they embraced life.

“To be African is to be beautiful, is to love your family so much that even when they die, you still don’t let them go; you talk about them as if they’re still right there. To be African is to love to dance and to dance until you can’t move anymore and still dance some more,” Coogler espoused.

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His experiences on the trip sharpened his focus as to what he would put on the big screen.

“To be African is just to be human. For whatever reason, I hadn’t seen much media that showed that. So it was really exciting to be able to explore that on this canvas.”

Coogler’s Black Panther star Nyong’o previously shared in an interview what the film means for Africans. “We were creating an aspirational world where an African people are in charge of their own destiny. And that really appealed to me and had the little girl inside me jumping for joy. To just have African people, Black people, at the center of that narrative is so exciting,” she said.