Ryan Coogler, artist above competition
Earlier this year the Academy made good on its promise to become more inclusive by inviting an unprecedented number of new members, many of whom are women and minorities working in film. Among these was Ryan Coogler, writer/director of Fruitvale Station, Creed, and the upcoming Black Panther movie. Coogler is undoubtedly a huge talent, and someone destined for Oscar nominations—should have gotten a couple for Creed already, but whatever—and a place among the most recognizable working filmmakers today. Coogler is the future, and exactly the kind of person and filmmaker the Academy would like to hold up as a representative of their more inclusive membership.
Except he turned them down.
The Hollywood Reporter published just this morning that Coogler has yet to send in his acceptance letter, and sources claim he’s “not interested in joining” the Academy. THR cites sources that claim Coogler isn’t motivated by politics, but instead is “uninterested in judging other people’s art”, which could be read as super pretentious, or Coogler just doesn’t f*cking care. If ever there was a guy who just wouldn’t fuss much either way about Academy membership, it’s Ryan Coogler, one of the chillest dudes in the director’s chair.
But will the Academy fuss back at him? I can just as easily see a lot of the older members, especially, taking this is as a slap in the face. They don’t have a sense of humor and they’re enraged that they’re being blamed for the membership crisis (which is entirely their f*cking fault for not seeing how the world was changing around them). To have a superstar young director like Coogler—who represents everything the Academy wants to be about in the 21st century—refuse to join and refuse to play by their country club rules? Why that ingrate! Who does he think he is?! Who does that little…
Well, you can imagine where that rant ends. And if you think I’m exaggerating, within minutes of the story hitting the web, I got a text from an Academy connection that simply said, “You know who won’t like this.” And I do. They’re old, they’re men, they’re exclusively white, and most of them don’t even work in the industry anymore. But they did, and they’re not names you’re going to know. They’re not the studio heads and press men. They’re the lawyers, investors, and board members that fueled Hollywood booms in previous decades.
They golf together, they own ranches in northern California and Nevada and they have estates in Montecito. They nurtured some of the most excessive, abusive moguls to ever run a studio into the ground, and when their boys wonder failed, they bought them out and gave them production funds to manage. They stay out of the press and don’t draw attention to themselves, but they can still make their power be felt. They’re the old guard, the ones to whom everyone currently running a studio or major distributor, and many of the top filmmakers, are indebted, for an internship or a break, or an investment when no one else would take a chance. They’re the grandfathers of the baseball cap brigade.
And now Ryan Coogler, intentionally or not, is directly challenging the last, shiniest gate they keep. Because if the hottest filmmaker is black, that’s one thing. They’ve learned to live with that. But for that filmmaker to then refuse to kiss their rings? That’s something else entirely. It shouldn’t be a big deal. Coogler can decide what groups he wants to join. But the Academy is a highly fetishized group with a lot of masturbatory rituals, and young filmmakers are expected to participate in the circle-jerk. Ryan Coogler is declining that invitation, but he’s just one man. What happens, though, if a new generation of filmmakers decides they’d rather not play, too?