Building on the success of Ryan Coogler’s 2015 boxing saga Creed, director Steven Caple Jr. takes the title character into the fight of his life for the highly anticipated sequel to this spin-off franchise in the Rocky Balboa universe.

Star Michael B. Jordan embodies Adonis “Donnie” Creed once again, this time as he’s pitted against the physically imposing son of Ivan Drago (the Russian man who killed Apollo Creed, Donnie’s father). Sylvester Stallone is back as the former champion-turned-mentor, a version of Rocky that earned him an Academy Award nomination three years ago.

Creed II is a departure in scope for Caple considering his debut feature, 2016’s The Land, was an independent venture largely informed by his formative years in Cleveland. That first effort was an energetic coming-of-age piece about a diverse group of skaters caught up in the drug underworld. Being half-African American and half-Puerto Rican, he wanted to reflect the multicultural environment grew up around. Two of the four leads in that film were Latinos played by Moisés Arias and Jorge Lendeborg Jr.

“Whether I’m directing or writing, I can pull from personal things that shaped my life, and definitely being Latino and black has had an impact on anything that I do. You get two different worlds growing up,” said Caple over the phone. “There are strong similarities in being black and Puerto Rican, but at the same time there are differences, so it allows me to live through both of those differences.”

Actor Michael B. Jordan and director Steven Caple Jr. on the set of CREED II. Photo by Barry Wetcher. Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures

Having Afro-Latina actress Tessa Thompson return as Bianca, a talented singer and Creed’s assertive girlfriend, reassured Caple that he was making a movie that already included both of his identities. “I definitely want to showcase Latinos and Blacks on screen,” he added. Thompson, who has had a remarkable year on screen with significant parts in major productions such as Annihilation and Sorry to Bother You, stands out in Creed II as a woman who supports her partner but never at the expense of her own dreams.

Caple also confirmed that Bianca is Latina and that there were subtle clues in the first installment supporting this without being contrived. Nobody knows this really but, ironically enough, Tessa Thompson’s character in Creed is Puerto Rican. It’s a small thing, but [in the first movie] there is a moment where you see the [Puerto Rican] flag in the background. When I came to set, I was like, ‘Oh cool, it’s already embedded, I don’t have to try to force anything.’”

Utterly impressed by Thompson’s ability to channel truthful emotions into her characters, the helmer found himself relating Bianca to the strong-willed women that surround him, especially his spouse. “My wife is also Puerto Rican and Black, and her and Tessa are both Libra, so there are some very strong similarities in personality. Tessa is definitely avid about making sure women are portrayed in a way that is not clichéd.”

Pointing to Thompson’s character’s disadvantaged upbringing touched upon in Coogler’s Creed, Caple explained he feels a kinship with her because of the difficulties he witnessed first-hand at home. “I had a Bianca-esque storyline,” said the filmmaker who moved around a lot as a child. His mother was always striving to provide her family with better opportunities. At some point that meant moving from the east side of Cleveland to the west side.

Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed and Tessa Thompson as Bianca in
CREED II. Photo by Barry Wetcher. Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures

“She was trying to find an area where we could grow up in and stay out of trouble.” Working as a medical assistant, his mother’s financial circumstances were challenging. Caple also admits that his father’s drug abuse problem intensified the struggles, but eventually everyone was able to come out stronger on the other side side.

Regarding his Puerto Rican heritage, the moviemaker noted that having a mixed background comes with a complex set of expectations, even more so when there is a language barrier. “I don’t speak Spanish. I understand a lot of it, because my Grandma spoke it to me, and I spoke back in English. There are moments when I’m around my Puerto Rican side of the family that I don’t feel Puerto Rican. I’m the black guy, but also sometimes you don’t feel black enough. It’s not until you get older where you learn that there’s a balance and you actually realize that there are so many similarities,” said Caple.

While at some point it was tough trying to completely fit into one box, the man behind Creed II has conquered that battle by accepting that both parts of who he is can exist simultaneously. “I definitely want to make sure it gets out there that I am both, and I’m proud to be both. But as a child, I was like, ‘I don’t know enough Spanish, am I Latino enough? Am I black enough? What defines being black enough or Latino enough?’” he candidly expressed. “It was just about self-discovery and figuring out who you are as a person.”

Creed II opens in theaters on November 21, 2018.

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