Charles King, Shaka King and Ryan Coogler acknowledge the importance of their Academy Award nominations but still wrestle with the meaning of an honor that has excluded so many: "Why did it take 93 years?"
The first time Ryan Coogler, Charles King and Shaka King collaborated, no one was planning to make movie history. Instead, they were trying to face a crisis.
It was the fall of 2014, and the fallout from the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were still reverberating in America. In response, a Black Hollywood brain trust emerged, meeting on Sundays, huddled over their laptops in the dining room of Charles' Studio City home, convened by a shared sense of frustration and pain. Coogler, Charles and a handful of Black actors and filmmakers, some participating via phone, discussed ways to respond, perhaps by holding a retail boycott.
At the time of deep social turmoil, both Charles and Coogler were approaching pivotal professional moments. Charles was three months away from leaving his 20-year career as an agent at WME, where he had become the first African American partner at a Hollywood talent agency, and he was quietly planning the launch of a media company that would target creators from underrepresented groups, MACRO. Coogler was fresh off a warm reception for his debut film, Fruitvale Station, and was in preproduction on his first studio project, Warner Bros.' Creed, a job that eventually would earn him the opportunity to direct Marvel's Black Panther in 2018, the highest-grossing film ever from a Black director.
Coogler enlisted a Brooklyn filmmaker he had met at Sundance — Shaka King — to make a video to get the word out about the dining-table advocacy group, which was calling itself Blackout for Human Rights, and its planned Black Friday boycott. Shaka's provocative video, which set images of police violence against audio of Andy Williams singing "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," went viral, and there was something fated about the collaboration. "It felt right," Coogler says. "That piece Shaka made, it's still like, 'Yo, I'd love to work with this dude anyway, anyhow.' "
Six years later, Coogler and the Kings, who are not related, have become the first all-Black producing team nominated for best picture in the 93-year history of the Oscars, for Warners' Judas and the Black Messiah. (Steve McQueen became the first Black producer to win best picture when 12 Years a Slave won the Oscars' top prize in 2014.) The drama also has surpassed 1985's The Color Purple to become the film with the highest number of Black Oscar nominees in history, 10, including Daniel Kaluuya for best supporting actor; LaKeith Stanfield, also for best supporting actor; Shaka King, Keith and Kenny Lucas for original screenplay; and H.E.R., Dernst Emile II and Tiara Thomas for best original song. It's the first studio movie since Mario Van Peebles' 1995 drama Panther to focus on the Black Panther political movement, with Kaluuya as Chicago Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton and Stanfield as an FBI informant embedded among the Panthers.
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