Ryan Coogler: Forest Whitaker ‘Protected’ Me Early in My Career

Source: IndieWire
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Forest Whitaker may play the “Godfather of Harlem,” but to Ryan Coogler, the Oscar winner was the godfather of Sundance.

Exactly 10 years ago, writer-director Coogler debuted “Fruitvale Station” at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Whitaker produced the film that starred Michael B. Jordan and was based on the true story of police brutality in the Bay Area.

“I was very shielded, and I think I was protected from seeing things or being treated unfairly in any way,” Coogler told Deadline of being a first-time filmmaker at the festival. “I was protected by [Forest Whitaker]. People didn’t want to upset him, so I might have had a positive view of it because I didn’t really get pushed around much. I didn’t get pushed around at all really. I had him as like a godfather in the process.”

Coogler continued, “I was just kind of slamming myself into it blind. I was really a wide-eyed kid, man. I knew a little bit about what Sundance was because I had gone there the year before, after the [2012 Sundance] Lab, so I kind of knew a little bit about the festival but not a lot. It was my second Sundance when we were there with the movie, but it was my first time having the process of people wanting to buy the movie and meeting with people to figure that out and my first time reading reviews.”

“Fruitvale Station” went on to win both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Award. Coogler had pitched Whitaker and his producing partner, Nina Yang Bongiovi, on the concept of “Fruitvale Station” while still a student at the University of Southern California.

“We decided to do it then, right on the spot,” Whitaker said in 2018 to the Calgary Herald. “Then he went back to class and later wrote the script. We raised the funds and shot the film. I think it’s a real important film. It has a real strong social message in dealing with profiling, in dealing with young black males being killed by the police. There were so many different stories inside of it.” Whitaker later starred in Coogler’s “Black Panther” blockbuster, adding that he always “knew” Coogler was going to be a “major filmmaker.”“I felt he was a visionary even at that time with just the stories he had told me,” Whitaker said. 

Coogler is now returning to Sundance for the 2023 festival, where he serves as a producer on documentary “Stephen Curry: Underrated.” Coogler is also being honored at the inaugural Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance ceremony with the Visionary Award.

Check out what Coogler had to say about feeling like part of a “team” at Sundance here.

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