Thank you to Disney who arranged this Black Panther Costume & Production Design interview for me. I attended an all-expose paid trip.
The aesthetics of Marvel’s Black Panther are absolutely stunning. The star-studded film broke records in the box office on opening weekend alone – everyone wants to take a trip to Wakanda. Audiences are raving about the breathtaking visuals. From the ornate costumes to the panoramic vistas, no detail was forgotten. The Black Panther costume & production design team did a phenomenal job.
I had the opportunity to interview Ruth E. Carter (costume design) and Hannah Beachler (production design) who envisioned the African country that’s powered by the most powerful substance in the Marvel universe: Vibranium. As they described the amount of effort that went into every stitch and design, you could really tell how much team work happens behind the scenes. Their energy filled the room, and suddenly, I wanted to know how everything was created for Black Panther.
Black Panther Costume & Production Design: Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler
Q: With a film this big, how do you start? Is it a fluid kind of creative process?
Production designers usually come onto films first, after the director, hired by the director and the producers. Ryan was really good about guiding me – starting with the macro. And it was really about ‘where is Wakanda in — on the continent of Africa, because that’s going to then determine everything that goes around. We kind of set it in sort of eastern sub-Saharan Africa. I did a lot of research in Nairobi and the bigger cities around Kenya and in South Africa – Joburg and Cape Town, just for some of the architecture. There is a story and a reason behind every single thing you see on that screen coming from me and Ruth. -Hannah Beachler
Their train had already left the station by the time I got on. And so, it was really a matter of me starting out being a really good listener, really getting into what they had done, understanding what they had done. I was in Hannah’s office sitting across from her like, ‘let me see everything’ And she said, ‘hey, I’ve got this manual I did and it outlines everything.’. I opened it up and there’s a map of Wakanda. It has a royal palace in the middle. It has districts that are explained to the hilt. I was like ‘how long did it take you to do this manual?’ Everything is written out. Even the language is in there. So, I brought the manual back to my team to study. -Ruth E. Carter
Q: Tell us more about the costume design.
We were looking at Afropunk. We’re looking at modern fashion. We’re moving everything forward. Everything has to be beautiful. We are not going to lie in any stereotypes at all. Whatsoever. We wanted to present this world as a kingdom. What if Africa was not colonized? I thought, ‘how can you mix ancient indigenous tribal culture with modern?’ We don’t want to make a documentary. This is a futuristic place. This is a place that has the richest mineral known on earth, Vibranium. And, you know, they’re aware of it. They’re aware of their richness. So, let’s just move that forward. Looking at Afropunk, those images that you see on your phone, going through your Instagram, you see that beauty. And that’s some of the beauty that we wanted to infuse. And when you see the Dora Milaje, you see the Maasai tribe, you see the Himba. I felt like the color, we upped the ante on the color. If you go to Africa, you see people walking around with color. You see a brown guy with a yellow shirt and red pants. That’s just the norm. So, we’re not reinventing anything. We’re just bringing it out. And we’re just honoring it and holding it up. So, you know, that’s how we started. –Ruth E. Carter
Q: How did you style Chadwick’s Black Panther character?
Well, when you look at the cast, there is kind of the antagonist and the protagonist. Chadwick is the king and then Michael B. Jordan is the antagonist, I guess you can say. So, the king is royal. The king is the king. We decided that the panther suit was going to be a newer technology, more streamline, more beautiful, less for us than the Civil War one was. And so, that translates into his everyday wardrobe. I tried to pick things that I felt that would be body conscious. You see he wears a lotta more knits and sweaters — so that you see his arms. He was fun to dress. We did the embroidery on his tailcoat and that was a fun process. -Ruth E. Carter
Q: There was a lot of intricacies with different costumes. If you had to pick one, which would you say was your favorite?
Favorite set – Shuri’s lab. We worked really hard on that one. I think it was kind of Feige’s favorite as well. We just put a lotta heart into it. Shuri is the smartest person on earth, man or woman. And so we had to reflect that. -Hannah Beachler
One of my favorites is when you first see Angela Bassett. That felt very royal and very queenly. And you knew she was the Queen of Wakanda. -Ruth E. Carter
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