There is a beautiful scene in Ryan Coogler’s Creed that captures what this young director proposes to his art form and to his country. The boxer and protagonist, Donnie (Michael B. Jordan), is running, in gray sweats, to see his ailing trainer, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). A clutch of neighborhood kids on dirt bikes and ATVs trail him like a Greek chorus. As Donnie picks up speed, Meek Mill’s “Lord Knows” blares in the background. At the height of his sprint, Donnie screams in agony and joy as Meek gives way to soft pianos, big horns and triumphant vocals. Time slows, Donnie’s hood chorus surrounds him, and our eyes are drawn to a boy popping a wheelie with his left hand extended in the air.
All the beauty the Academy cannot see is in this one scene. That beauty, so often denied, is the stuff of Coogler’s work. This is not a matter of looking pretty—though that is part of it—so much as a matter of looking human. That is why Ryan Coogler is so necessary right now. On the biggest screen, he confers humanity and beauty on people told they are innately without it.
Coates is a journalist and the author, most recently, of Between the World and Me
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