How important is a name? Well, I was given my first name to honour my maternal grandmother who was practically my third parent. My middle name is my father’s first name while my last name is my paternal grandfather’s first name and on and on it goes. This naming system lets me trace my lineage through the men on my father’s side of the family. Farther back than I could ever imagine. In my family and community, names are important because it’s with your name that you can search for a helping hand with ease. Oh, you’re so and so? Ah! We’re second cousins! It’s also history. Know who you are, my father would say. Know where you came from.
Yeah you should’ve never doubted me
The pain and the struggle followed me
My daddy never been there, bothered me
And these cold streets made a man of me
– Last Breath, Future
Creed is about former heavyweight boxing champion, Rocky Balboa, training the illegimate son of deceased boxing legend, Apollo Creed. It’s a movie that uses name to explore legitimacy and legacy but it’s about Adonis “Donnie” Johnson as much as it’s about the new film itself. Can Ryan Coogler deliver us a movie that could be seen as a legitimate heir to Stallone’s Rocky franchise? The answer is a resounding yes. Coogler took the underlying theme of the Rocky movies — an underdog with something to prove — and added a fresh twist. He created Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan); the son of the great boxing legend, Apollo Creed, who was a result of the boxer’s extramarital affair. He gave us a character who struggled with the idea of being unworthy of the Creed name and who feels his existence is a black mark on that legacy as he declares a few rounds into that final fight: “I’ve got to prove I’m not a mistake.”
Asked Ali what’s the price of war
Asked God why momma made me poor
Ask police why they hunt me down
We fight to live and fight for sport
– Waiting For My Moment, Childish Gambino, Ludwig Göransson, Jhené Aiko & Vince Staples
Coogler then takes this concept of legitimacy and legacy and layers the black experience over it. It doesn’t become a “black film” but a film about a black man living his life as a black man. The famous Rocky montage is replaced with Donnie running down the street and inviting the 12 O’Clock Boys — urban dirt-bike riders — to join him. It’s a moment where community is acknowledged and once again making an iconic scene his own.
Hip Hop is the soundtrack of choice in the film with some neo-funk from Bianca — our songstress and love interest — sprinkled throughout. Rap specifically becomes the film’s hype man as it offers the necessary motivation for Donnie and sometimes reminder of why he grinds as hard as he does. Waiting For My Moment and Last Breath are the musical reminders of the Rocky franchise before and both tracks have had a hand in this review as personal hype machines. It’s also worth reminding the underdog nature of the rap genre as a fitting anthem of the film and the soundtrack overall is a stunning piece of work.
It’s David and Goliath, I made it to the eye of the storm
Feeling torn like they fed me to the lions
Before my time start to wind down like the Mayans
I show ’em how I got the grind down like a science
– The Fire, The Roots ft John Legend
Of course, there are the fights. As someone who’s taken boxing, getting punched is painful but I haven’t seen it done as beautifully and raw as I did watching Creed. I heard every crunch and gasped alongside Mama Creed and Bianca. There were fights done in one shot and fights where moments are given to remind us of the brutality of the sport: blood on the mat, blood on Donnie’s shorts, battered bodies, and a slow-mo of Donnie falling…
They put me through hell, sharpened my iron
I did my push-ups and I roared with the lions
– Lord Knows, Meek Mills ft Tory Lanez
…and being jerked up by why he’s here. Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is the supportive girlfriend but more than that, she’s a singer slowly going deaf and uses her limited time to make her dream a reality. If that’s not fan-fucking-tastic then I don’t know what is and it’s unsurprising Donnie called her his motivation. Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) is the mother who rescued and raised him after his mother death. The moment she offers her support via the american flag shorts a la Papa Creed, any hesitance in entering that ring leaves his body. It’s evident that both women – along with Rocky – are his foundation.
When I talked about the importance of names, it was steeped in biology. Creed didn’t look at legacy in just the biological sense as exemplified in the relationship between Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and Donnie. The aging Rocky is a very lonely person and unexpectedly became a father figure for Donnie while Donnie in return became the family he’s lost either to cancer or to the distance created through his own legacy. Watching Rocky train Donnie while Donnie was their for all of Rocky’s difficult moments in fighting cancer was incredibly emotional. it was then that you see not just a film igniting new fire under a decades old franchise but also seeing Stallone’s Rocky – a character I’ve grown up watching – also given new life. It’s the most sincere performance I’ve seen from Stallone in a long time.
Creed is the most affecting film I’ve seen and it’s infecting every cell in my body. Fighting means boxing but it also extend to fighting yourself, and fighting to live. I may not be a son but I’m a daughter. I’m a black woman. I’m a human being with shit I drag from my past that life has handed me. This is how movies reach into you and Creed did a banging job.