MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland

The Magic of Creed (non-spoiler)

Creed is a very good movie. A movie-movie.

There are lots of things one can point to in the film, from Stallone bringing back the mumble to the 3-round fight in one shot to the mature performance of Michael B. Jordan and on and on.

But what interests me is the alchemy created by co-writer/director Ryan Coogler and his co-writer Aaron Covington in blending the oh-so familiar and the new, the raw, the class movie that surprisingly supplants race as a central theme.

The original Rocky was steeped in ethnicity and race. There have been many words written about the White fantasy that is Rocky… overcoming the “uppity” Black success story. But I don’t think that this was what Stallone was after, at least consciously.

Rocky, “The Italian Stallion,” was not so much a reflection of the Italian immigrant story (told so masterfully just years before in The Godfather, Part II). Sylvester Stallone happened to be Italian. He wanted to be a movie star. And so Rocky, who could have been virtually any breed of Palooka from Palookaville, was Italian. He was trained by an Irishman. He fought, in the middle of the 35-year run of Black heavyweights dominating the championship belts, a Black man.

Yes, Stallone flipped things with the White guy trying to raise himself up against an ascendant Black man. He was seen by some as The Great White Hope. It was, in a way, an early commercial for Ronald Reagan’s successful presidential run.

But again, I would argue that the heart of the movie was about class and not about race.

Rocky did not care about his opponent’s color in the first film. Some around him did. But that was never a Rocky issue. And this this film, Adonis Creed, while fully aware of the significance of color, doesn’t seem to much care about color. In Rocky, Apollo Creed and his people were very aware of fighting a man of an “opposite” race and the value of that at the time, as is Adonis’ eventual (very White) opponent in Creed, though he couches his racism in the idea of “legitimacy,” as we have heard so often about President Obama.

Coogler and Covington find a way of creating an opponent who is an outsider, who we won’t root for, without screaming in our face. And while our leads, in both films, are steeped in their own cultures, they are utterly uninterested in the cultural subtext of their opponent. A tricky line that can’t just happen by coincidence, beautifully walked here.

Of course, Stallone went on, in Rocky III and Rocky IV, to make the series about cultural expectations, whether the “street Black guy” that Mr. T played with Apollo in Rocky’s corner or the Russian who would (30-year spoiler alert) kill Creed and have to be taken out by good old all-American Rocky Balboa. Of course, in both of these films, Balboa and Creed had become true friends, barely seeing color at all.

Rocky and Rocky II are, to me, about class (or lack thereof). And Creed is about class. Confusion about class has replaced stereotypes, as befits 2015 vs 1975. But in spirit, the same as the original. (And interestingly, I think that is what David O. Russell’s Joy is going to be able as well.)

Coogler and Covington manage to successfully play both sides of things. Adonis Creed is both from the underclass and the upper class… which ties him to living-legend-who-still-lives-in-his-old-house Rocky in a way that I don’t think Rocky is even meant to understand. Adonis is beautiful, but a bit awkward with women. Adonis is full of rage, but that tone has gotten out of his system by the end of the film’s second scene (replaced by pained resolve).

And beyond Adonis Creed himself and the dozens of specific callbacks to the Rocky films, the writers manage to make it feel of the same ilk, though through Maryse Alberti’s lens, it doesn’t look much like the original at all. It feels like an indie… or if you will, a film from the early 70s.

It’s almost as though the writers came up with an idea to flip most of what was in the original inside out… except for the emotion. And the power of that emotion reminds us that nothing else really matters.

Beyond the movie joys of the film, there is something powerful about a movie that is so unabashedly full of race and ethnicity on its face while, at the same time, it is not about those things much at all. It forces you to think, but it doesn’t lecture or berate. It is comfortable in its own skin, whether that skin is Black or White, old or young, whipsmart or a little slow. And then it just slides in next to your heart and takes you where it wants.

It feels like The Future. Or at least the future many of us pray to come to pass.

I’ve only seen the film once. I am pretty sure this feeling about Creed will deepen in the weeks to come. But for a film to feel so familiar and so surprising is a glorious thing indeed.

Be Sociable, Share!

2 Responses to “The Magic of Creed (non-spoiler)”

  1. eldrick says:

    love the rocky movies. pretty much all of them. and i think rocky was inspired by muhammad ali vs chuck wepner if im not mistaken. less about race as you say, more about a no hoper who did better than expected at the highest level of athletic competition.

    looking forward to this movie but man, would be interesting to see a take on floyd mayweather where the cocky upstart/champ doesnt lose. that would really piss people off. minus the domestic battery which is disgraceful, but just the idea of a cocky in ya face seemingly shamelss, seemingly making black people look bad-character just dominating a sport. would be cool if they took the cred character down that road in possible sequels.

  2. eldrick says:

    also, i dont think tony bellew is white, if you are talking about who i think you are. he is at the very least a quarter black, or just a light skinned mixed race man. he is a boxer from here in england.

The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon