Director and writer Ryan Coogler’s introduction to the public left a profound impact that is still found in his work today. Coogler grew up as one of three brothers to a community organizer and probation counselor. Originally born and raised in Oakland, CA, he spent much of his adolescence in Richmond, where ran track and played football. His sports prowess won him a football scholarship to St. Mary’s College.
While at St. Mary’s, the seeds for his film careers were sowed as he took a creative writing course. He eventually transferred to Sacramento State, where he took multiple film courses. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Coogler enrolled in the master’s program of USC School of Cinematic Arts. During his tenure at the school, the filmmaker creates a series of short films that prestigious student film awards such as TIFF’s Dana and Albert Broccoli Award for Filmmaking Excellence, the HBO Short Film Competition, the DGA Student Film Award, and the Jack Nicholson Award for Achievement in Directing.
As a USC student, the shooting of Oakland native Oscar Grant greatly affected Coogler. He put together a script by interviewing Grant’s family and attorney. Eventually, a chance meeting with Oscar winner Forest Whittaker led to the film Fruitvale Station. The film went on to be a critically-acclaimed sleeper hit, scoring multiple nominations for Coogler and frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan. After the film’s success, he and Jordan teamed up with Sylvester Stallone to bring Creed to the big screen. The seventh installment in the Rocky franchise proved to a success – critically and commercially.
After helming two successful films in a row, Coogler was tapped to direct an all-star cast in Marvel Studio’s first MCU film with a Black lead – Black Panther. Released in February 2018, the film went on to become the highest-grossing film by a Black director. It garnered multiple award nominations, including an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The hit film will be followed up with a sequel in 2022. Along with the Black Panther sequel, he will write and direct Wrong Answer, another film with Michael B. Jordan as well as Space Jam: A New Legacy with Lebron James. The director recently signed a deal with Disney+, which includes a drama based on Wakanda.
As a screenwriter, there are very few creators in the entertainment industry so inspire me more than the man I just profiled. I have admired his efforts to push stories of the Black diaspora. He spotlights many aspects of Black culture over different continents along socioeconomic, class, and racial lines. He (as well as a few other Black creators) have front Black cinema back into the mainstream conversation, and for that, I want to say thank to Ryan Coogler for pushing creative like myself to highlight all facets of my culture.
To recognize yourself in a character onscreen, and to connect with them, you gotta recognize their flaws; they gotta feel like a real person.– Ryan Coogler
Multihyphenated content creator Issa Rae grew from a YouTube content creator to one of Hollywood’s most powerful Black voices. Rae grew up as one of four siblings to a Senegalese doctor and Black American educator whose careers took the family across different continents. Originally born in Los Angeles, CA, she lived in Senegal and Maryland before settling in California. It wasn’t until Rae entered high school that found her passion and voice – acting and writing.
After graduating from high school in Los Angeles, Rae went to Stanford University, where she received a BA in African and African American Studies. The seeds for her first series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl were planted as she met her producer Tracy Oliver. The two eventually took classes at the New York Film Academy after Rae completed a theatre fellowship in New York City. Her confidence in having an entertainment career wavered as she contemplated between law and medical school before Awkward Black Girl took off.
After contemplating quitting her career, she had her breakthrough moment as Season 1 of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl took off on YouTube. The series gained recognition through word of mouth and coverage online before the mainstream media picked up the series. This attention led to renowned music producer Pharrell to helping produce the second season. Rae even went on develop other successful YouTube series such as Black Actress, The Choir and First. She ended up scoring a development deal through Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland with host and comedian Larry Wilmore helping to develop a comedy series.
Despite the deal not working out, the series she developed with Wilmore led to a pilot for HBO. This deal eventually led to the acclaimed hit Insecure. Her work on Insecure has led to multiple award nominations as both an actor and writer. The series’ success helped to secure Rae an HBO development deal, leading to projects such as Rap Sh*t and A Black Lady Sketch Show. The creator continues to produce film and television projects through her production outlets Issa Rae Productions and ColorCreative. The success has translated to a big screen career as both a performer and producer with hit films such as The Hate U Give, Little, Hair Love, and The Lovebirds.
As a screenwriter, there are very few creators in the entertainment industry so inspire me more than the woman I just profiled. While I did catch a few episodes of Awkward Black Girl on YouTube, it was her efforts to push other underrepresented and marginalized creators that made her a source of inspiration. She managed to turn an acclaimed, poignant web series into a multimedia brand spanning television, streaming and the web. She (as well as a few other Black creators) helped to bring the Black experience back into primetime after a drought of Black television content, and for that, I want to say thank to Issa Rae for pushing creative like myself to highlight all facets of my culture.
My confidence comes from doing what I love to be honest, like to be able to create something from the ground up and to be able to… kind of walk in your purpose is a great feeling.– Issa Rae
Children’s book and young adult author Walter Dean Myers managed to merge Black youth culture with literature. Myers experienced a rough childhood growing up in New York. At age two, he was given to his foster parent Herbert and Florence Dean after his mother’s death. Adopting the middle name “Dean” to honor the love and affection the Deans showed him. His life revolved around his neighborhood and church.
Their love was needed as Myers’ speech impediment lead to some trouble at school. But a turning point came when his teacher suggested using writing to channel his frustration. He continued writing short stories and poetry into high school before quitting at age 17 to join the military. Upon being discharged, he went from job to job trying to find his voice until reading “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin.
Soon, he began writing for various publications before winning a contest, which leads to his first children’s book. Much of his work channeled his troubled teenage years and growing up in Harlem, New York. His exploration of Black young culture was unprecedented in children’s and young adult literature. He went to published best-selling titles such as Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, Fallen Angels, Monster, Hoops, and Scorpions. During his lifetime, Myers was a five-time Coretta Scott King Award winner along with being a Newbery Medal, Hans Christian Anderson, and National Book Award finalist. From 2012 to 2013, he served as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, becoming the first Black person to be granted this honor.
In his later years, Myers continued to write children’s books and young adult literature with his son Christopher doing the illustrations. He passed away on July 1, 2014, after a brief illness. Even after his death, his work continued to be published with his last book, Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History, and the short story, “Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push,” coming out in 2017.
As a Black teenage male, I had very few authors who appealed to me outside of the few Black authors that were required reading. Discovering Walter Dean Myers’ works in junior high made me feel seen and heard in a way I had never felt before. He captured the experience of Black youth without pandering or being outdated. He made me strive to be better than some of the circumstances he wrote in his novels, and for that, I want to say thank to Walter Dean Myers for shaping my adolescence and wanting to highlight my culture.
Books transmit values. They explore Our common humanity. What is the message when some people are not represented in those books?– Walter Dean Myers
Author and educator Toni Morrison set the tone for many Black writers of today. Morrison grew up as the second of four children in a working-class African American family in Lorain, Ohio. Her love for reading and her heritage was stimulated by her parents telling of African-American folktales and ghost stories.
She turned her love for reading into her passion as she received her BA in English from Howard University followed an MA from Cornell University. She taught at Texas Southern University and Howard before getting Random House subsidiary L.W. Singer. While at Random House, Morrison became the first Black female senior editor, giving chances to many upcoming Black writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, Huey Newton and Gayl Jones.
Soon, she began writing herself leading to some African American literature’s most celebrated works like The Bluest Eyes, Song of Solomon and Beloved. Her storytelling and celebration of Black culture sent a precedent for African American literature. With Beloved, Morrison became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. In 1997, she became the second female and first Black fiction writer to grace the cover of Time Magazine.
In her later years, Morrison continued to thrive as a professor at both Cornell and Princeton University. She released her final work of fiction, God Help the Child, in 2015. She passed away on August 5, 2019, after a battle with pneumonia.
Some may not acknowledge this fact, but Toni Morrison is basically the turning point for African American literature. Her foresight and sense of awareness was able to push Black writers and stories to the mainstream in a way no one before her had even tried. Her contributions as a writer and editor aren’t celebrated enough, but for that, I say thank Ms. Morrison for all you did to create a space for Black voices.
If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.– Toni Morrison