Michael B. Jordan stars in “Creed III.”
LOS ANGELES – This is an underdog story for the 21st century.
The Creed series is a Hollywood miracle in many ways. It’s a lucrative spinoff of the beloved decades-old Rocky series, but it has its own modern style and sensibility.
And, while paying homage to the star and the stories that gave him a foundation, he flipped the script on an enduring white working-class myth by highlighting black talent on both sides of the camera.
Warner Bros.’ The upcoming “Creed III,” due in theaters March 3, also sees its lead actor take the helm as director, a move also made by Sylvester Stallone in 1979 with the release of “Rocky II.” The film will be Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut.
“Michael B. Jordan has worked on some amazing TV shows and movies and I’ve always said the best film school was on set,” said Shawn Edwards, a film critic who sits on the board of directors of the Critics Choice Association and co. – founded the Association of African American Film Critics. “I think it was only a matter of time before [he] jumped behind the camera.”
Jordan’s road to the director’s chair was paved by Ryan Coogler, who wrote and directed the first Creed movie, and Steven Caple Jr., who directed the second. Coogler, who had yet to release his first film “Fruitvale Station,” which also starred Jordan, approached Stallone about a Creed spinoff.
A few years later, he finally convinced him. Stallone co-starred in the first two films and co-wrote the screenplay for “Creed II.” Stallone was not involved in the third Creed movie and declined CNBC’s request for comment.
The first film, 2015’s “Creed,” followed Adonis, the son of Rocky’s longtime rival and later friend, Apollo Creed. The story examined the life of an orphaned boy living in the shadow of a boxing legend and facing his own underdog history as he seeks to follow in his father’s footsteps and enter the ring.
“Creed” echoed much of the narrative cues of the original Rocky films, which focused on a self-styled “ham-and-egger” from the middle streets of white working-class Philly who becomes a heavyweight contender and, finally, world champion.
But the new franchise also addressed issues around the black experience and black masculinity.
“It’s refreshing to see this emphasis, and not on our traditional ways of thinking about black representation in terms of past and historical struggles against discrimination and oppression,” said Fordham University professor Brandy Monk-Payton. , specializing in the representation of black people in the media. “I think they’re integrated in the way that [the film’s characters] move around the world…but at the same time, that’s not the centerpiece of the story. The center of the story is this ordinary man who ends up going through a struggle and a triumph.”
Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors star in Warner Bros.’ “Creed III.”
This kind of story can only be told when black artists are part of the production process and in leadership roles within studios, say industry insiders and experts.
Sheldon Epps, one of the preeminent black directors of television and theater, said it’s only in the past decade that he’s seen a change in Hollywood’s diversity.
“I’ve been around long enough that in some situations I’ve been one of the few, or one of the only, black directors or black leaders of an arts institution,” he said. “Some years the only one in some of the TV shows I’ve done, like ‘Friends’ and ‘Frasier’. And that was sadly true for many, many years.”
Epps said that slowly changed as more black directors were hired to helm hour-long TV dramas, including Paris Barclay (“Cold Case,” “The West Wing”) and Eric Laneuville. (“Lost”). He also singled out black authors such as Ava DuVernay as people who rose to positions of power and used that position to uplift others. DuVernay’s “Queen Sugar” series had a policy that only female directors would be hired to work on the series.
“Involving more artists of color in the process of creating the stories, not just making them, but writing them, is critical because it expands the canvas,” Epps said. “Instead of having a narrow view of Blacks, Latinos or Asians, because the stories are written from within those worlds, we get a much, much broader view of all the varied communities in our nation. “
Jonathan Majors and Michael B. Jordan Star in Warner Bros.’ ‘Creed III’
And stories about black protagonists sell tickets.
‘The Woman King’ raked in nearly $100 million worldwide when it hit theaters last year, and Coogler’s two ‘Black Panther’ films, under the Marvel banner, together grossed more than $2 billion. dollars at the global box office.
“Creed” and “Creed II” have grossed more than $100 million at the domestic box office, according to Comscore data. And the third film is expected to generate between $25 million and $35 million in its opening weekend.
“It broadened the audience,” said Rolando Rodriguez, president of the National Association of Theater Owners. “There’s a specific extra energy that comes out of the Hispanic and African-American community.”
Rodriguez posits that if black people make up 13% of the population, black moviegoers will make up about 20% to 22% of total ticket sales for “Creed III”. Similarly, the Hispanic community makes up about 19% of the population, but accounts for 25% to 28% of movie tickets sold.
“It really helps the movie as a whole, because it doesn’t take away from other audiences,” he said, noting that other demographics will still show up for the movie, so it’s not a replacement. of these audiences.
“It excites me because it’s nice to see some of these varied films where these young men and women can see themselves on screen being portrayed as leading actors and actresses,” Rodriguez added. “That you can be someone who can hopefully become a CEO or a movie star, a producer or a director…I think that sends a very important social message.”
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