Laurean D. Robinson, MA
I am a fighter.
I wake up in dark twilight every morning before the alarm clock even goes off with a purpose and goal. I have no trainer, no gym to work out in, or even a live mentor physically guiding my steps to correct my form.
But even without all those things (or a paycheck yet), I know who I am and I know what I meant to do.
I am a writer.
This kind of resolute is what I identified with in this weekend’s viewing of Ryan Coogler’s Creed through its titular character, Adonis “Donny” Creed/Johnson, and maybe even with the young filmmaker of Fruitvale Station himself.
It wouldn’t be the first time an unlikely hero would rise to meet destiny through the course of a vision quest. The late great Nora Ephron created a dynamic world for female protagonists to find their voice with such iconic films as When Harry Met Sally, Julie & Julia and Hanging Up. Writer Elizabeth “Liz” Gilbert showed us all how to Eat, Pray, Love our way to the truest self a few years ago. Women of color saw themselves, their friends and family in Waiting to Exhale, Gina Prince-BytheWood’s The Secret Lives of Bees, Love and Basketball, and Tate Taylor’s The Help. Even our television shows are finally giving dimension of complex and nuanced heores and heroines that we all can see ourselves in.
As a literary educator, I see this vision quest theme further back before the 20th century to Ancient Greek drama and tragedy of Sophocles which is later recycled during the European Renaissance by playwrights like the Bard with classics like Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello.
Like the traditional canons of film and literature themselves, Adonis has a great deal to live up to as the sole heir of mythic boxer Apollo Creed. Luckily, Coogler artfully begins the film showing Adonis as a young street fighter in a juvenile detention center, illustrating his innate ability. Without his father and mother, Adonis is forced (like many young boys in the community) to figure out his place in the world by himself.
Adopted by Creed’s widow, Mary Ann, played by the regal Phylicia Rashad, Donny gets the motherly nurturing he needs for stability as a child. When he grows up, Donny maintains employment like his
adopted mother wants but moonlights with amateur boxing on the weekends.
So how can he fulfill his own destiny? How does he find himself and his purpose?
Adonis goes back to Philadelphia to find his father’s mentor and friend, Rocky Balboa, played by the man himself, Mr. Sylvester Stallion. Time, as it can, has worn down the People’s Champion, no longer fighting in the ring but daily against regret and loneliness without Adrian, Micki and Paulie.
So the two come together at crucial crossroads of each other’s lives. But can they help each other heal? Can youth yield to experience and insight? Will passion ignite destiny?
Ryan Coogler is a masterful storyteller, expanding upon the Rocky franchise with intelligence and emotional integrity. Michael B. Jordan embodies the heart of an abandoned child who struggles to find his place in the world. Like Rocky in his heyday, Jordan’s Adonis is a living symbol of a “lost” generation of young people (this time, of color) who lack the parental influence they desperately need to feel whole. Even as an adult, Donny has trouble processing with his emotions constructively, often resorting to fighting out of anger and frustration.
As Rocky had his beloved Adrian to fill in the emotional holes he lacked, Donny has Bianca, played by the talented Tessa Thompson from last year’s Dear White People. However, this love interest is much more fleshed out thanks to the writing talents of Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington. Bianca carries the street cred over Donny as a Philly native and local music artist, making her more of his equal (and slightly superior in certain aspects).
Coogler is able to tap into the Rocky mythology for another generation without straying too far from Stallione’s original construct. All that made Rocky the People’s Champion and famous underdog is passed on to Jordan’s Adonis character.
You watch him fight for every opportunity that comes his way – from demanding respect from his peers in a confined space, breaking away from a traditional path to the American Dream, to pursuing his father’s mentor on the East Coast.
Seeing that determination up close can inspire you and question your own depth of resolve. Coogler does something only insightful filmmakers can do – he challenges his audience to fight for its own legacy.