It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since the global phenomenon known as “Black Panther” hit theaters with a thunderous arrival that still reverberates. Director Ryan Coogler, best known for his earlier offering, “Fruitvale Station,” has made it his signature to capture the human spirit amidst the despair and hostile environment that targets vulnerable communities.
This is probably why the breaking news of his arrest back in January at a Bank of America in Atlanta is so ironic. Coogler simply wanted to withdraw a large sum of money from his own checking account, but his plans went awry almost immediately after passing a handwritten note to a bank teller with specific instructions for the transaction: “I would like to withdraw $12,000 cash from my checking account. Please do the money count somewhere else. I’d like to be discreet.”
The bank teller, who is yet to be identified, apparently felt threatened enough to assume that the 35-year-old director—wearing a covid mask as well as sunglasses and a hat for privacy, because he’s quite famous now—was a bank robber. The teller then conferred with the bank’s manager, and they decided to call the police. Of course, the cops arrived at the scene and immediately handcuffed Coogler before investigating any facts of the case.
Bank of America ultimately acknowledged the misunderstanding and issued a statement accepting responsibility for the (pretty racist) incident: “We deeply regret that this incident occurred. It never should have happened and we have apologized to Mr. Coogler.”
Coogler also released his thoughts about the incident, saying graciously, “This situation should never have happened. However, Bank of America worked with me and addressed it to my satisfaction and we have moved on.”
This is just another sobering reminder of how being Black in America is a constant struggle for survival. If one of the most respected and talented Black directors in the game can be mistaken for a bank robber for simply requesting a standard bank transaction, how can the rest of us Black people, who have considerably less power, money and influence, continue to hope that racial tensions in this country will ever subside?
Ryan Coogler survived his encounter with the police and will clearly be fine and move on. But the residue of what happened to him won’t fade that easily, especially for his fans and those of us who try our hardest to stay above water in a system that has always been rigged against us.