Black Panther filmmaker Ryan Coogler received a standing ovation as he wrapped an emotional edition of BAFTA’s David Lean lecture series in London Monday.
The annual lecture is the centerpiece of BAFTA’s public program. Previous speakers include Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Paul Greengrass, David Lynch, and Spike Lee.
Coogler’s session was packed out with a mix of general cinephiles and industry professionals, including several members of London’s Identity School of Acting, best known for producing talents such as John Boyega and Coogler’s Black Panther star Letitia Wright.
Coogler opened the lecture by telling the audience that he felt “deeply unworthy” to be giving the Lean speech, which he said he accepted while “in a rush” to finish Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
“I feel like I’m standing in a place that maybe I shouldn’t be. It’s a feeling I’ve grown accustomed to over my life and career. Moments like these, they never change,” he said.
Coogler continued to say that he has had a “complicated relationship” with cinema that has been heavily shaped by his family and the “shared experience and responsibility” of being a Black filmmaker in the industry.
“I didn’t know if I would be a Black filmmaker that made independent cinema or a Black filmmaker that made major motion pictures. But I knew that I was joining a very important group,” he said. “I felt it when I shook John [Singleton’s] hand for the first time, and I felt it when I shook Spike [Lee’s] hand for the first time.”
Coogler spoke extensively about his relationship with John Singleton, telling the audience that the filmmaker’s 1991 debut Boyz N The Hood was the first film he remembered seeing in theaters with his father, at which point he took a long pause to hold back tears.
Singleton died in 2019 after suffering a stroke, but Coogler told the audience that the filmmaker had become one of his personal mentors, and he shared a seminal text he received from Singleton about the importance of supporting fellow Black filmmakers when his second film Creed opened in 2015.
“I saw a message that he sent me a couple of weeks after watching Creed, and it started with a picture of the tickets he bought for him and his daughter. He sent the tickets to me and said, ‘this is a ritual. We always do this for each other,” Coogler said of Singleton’s text.
“He didn’t have to explain to me who the We was. It was Black filmmakers, showing that they actually go out and buy the ticket because it means something.”
Coogler also became visibly emotional when discussing Chadwick Boseman who died in 2020 during the prep for Wakanda Forever.
“I found myself in a position where I was uncomfortable. I was a director without a lead actor, tasked to make a film about a hero when we’d just lost ours,” Coogler said of the time. “So the question was, how do you move on when your very existence and very identity was defined by another person, and you lose them? That question motivated us to complete the film.”
Coogler ended his on-stage appearance by teasing some of the forthcoming projects from his production company Proximity Media, including Creed 3, directed by Michael B Jordan.
“It’s an incredible script written by my brother Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin, who did King Richard,” he said of the film. “We’re also doing a television show about the character Riri Williams who was in Wakanda Forever, and that will be out in the fall.”
Discussing the future, he added: “It’s only recently that people who look like me get to make movies of this size. We’re still finding our way.”