Black Panther’s Hannah Beachler & Ruth Carter talk designing Wakanda
Way back in 2010, the very first tease of Black Panther arrived in Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 2. A scene near the end of the movie showed off a map of the world indicating places of interest for SHIELD as they assembled their “Avengers Initiative,” and one of those dots was smack in the middle of Africa. Six years later, the studio would finally bring the King of Wakanda to the big screen in Captain America: Civil War, and eight years after its first teaser, Wakanda will finally make its proper debut on the big screen in Black Panther’s solo movie.
“We talked about it,” producer Nate Moore says about the idea of introducing Wakanda into the MCU earlier. “And the truth was, there was so much to bite off that we didn’t want to waste it. We could have gone there a couple of times before. There were iterations of other scripts where we did go to Wakanda, but we didn’t want to tease it without a full idea of what it was going to be. We didn’t want to start locking into ideas without having a story or a filmmaker who had a full understanding of what the country was. All of those ideas fell to the wayside until we could spend a full movie on it.”
That filmmaker is none other than Ryan Coogler, whose previous credits include Fruitvale Station and Creed. Coogler brought a lot of ideas to the table for Black Panther, including specific ideas about what the world of the hero should look like, and for that he need a trusted expert, his production designer Hannah Beachler.
An Emmy nominee, Beachler has collaborated on all of Coogler’s films, and in the interim she served as production designer for a little project by Beyonce called Lemonade. She’s also the first female production designer on any Marvel Studios movie.
“We have a nice shorthand,” Beachler says of her working relationship with Coogler. “I’m pretty grateful that he trusted me, like, ‘Here’s a civilization. Let’s go.’ So that was fun. We always have fun. He always drags me into things that I’m not expecting that I would ever do in my life. So it’s challenging and keeps me doing something new all the time.”
Coogler compiled a visual bible for the world of Wakanda for the film, giving it to Beachler and costume designer Ruth Carter and featuring a pre-set structure for the world and the rules of the fictional culture.
“I think Hannah and I are besties right now,” Carter says. “Because we are constantly screaming and jumping up and down and hugging each other. We work very closely.”
One of the main rules was the color pallete of the movie, as different sections of Wakanda stick to a strict visual scheme. The River Tribe is green, the Border Tribe is blue, The Jabaris are wood, and the Black Panther and the Royal Palace are black and royal purple.
“We had a very clear direction and that came from Ryan,” Carter adds. “With Hannah, her taste levels are through the roof, so I was constantly becoming aware – and still visiting – as they’re developing the sets, seeing what lanterns are going in, the furniture – and still getting a surprise when I get to set. This business is always morphing and you’re always tweaking when you see things finally coming together.”
The architecture of Wakanda was inspired by places from all over the continent of Africa as well, an idea that Nate Moore says serves into the plot of Black Panther.
“Part of the storytelling was that Wakanda was one of the first peoples and as they spread out they took their traditions and their architecture and their pottery with them and that became the basis for Kenya and that became the basis for the Central Republic of the Congo. So it allowed us then to pull from everywhere rather than just saying it’s just inspired by this one place, because there’s so much great design honestly. We wanted it to be, in a way, a love letter to Africa, which you don’t get to see a lot on film.”
The visuals and the culture of Wakanda aren’t the only key aspects of the fictional country that were integral to the creation of the world. The far advanced technology was also a key piece.
“What’s interesting about Wakanda that we always found fascinating was it’s not only the most technically-advanced civilization in the world,” Moore says. “But it has a very strong ancestral history that was never eliminated in a way it has been in other places, because they were never conquered. So imagine a place that still has standing monuments that are centuries old, next to the most modern skyscrapers in the world. In the same way, they haven’t lost a lot of their cultural touchstones that other places have. They still worship, potentially the same gods they did when they first started. They still have rituals that are centuries old because they never had that sort of cultural imperialism that you’ve seen across the world.”
There’s also one very important thing to any superhero movie: The Suit. Carter tells us that she liked the original costume for Black Panther as seen in Captain America: Civil War, but notes that she wanted to make some changes, which she couldn’t exactly open up about…
“What we wanted to do was take it into a new millennium, a new attitude, a new technology, and make it exciting again. You know, just make it exciting again. And then sometimes, you know, cultures can come together with superheroes. And I’ll leave it at that.”
One last thing that will be changing? Where Wakanda is actually located on a map. Forget about what you saw in 2010, because that isn’t it.
“There’s the famous map,” Beachler says of the scene from Iron Man 2. “And we’re like, ‘Does it need to be there?’ And we’re like, ‘Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he didn’t really have that right.’ Because you’re not really supposed to know… We wanted it to be in an area where there’s a little bit of conflict but also on one side of your border there’s no conflict. But we need the mountains, we also needed some water and I’m like, well you know, we can put anything we want in there. And I really wanted to use a piece that was real and so, we did. And maybe I won’t say what. And we’ll leave it right there…”
Black Panther, and the location of Wakanda, will be revealed to the world on February 16.