There were so many amazing interviews during the #BlackPantherEvent, but this particular informative interview with Production Designer Hannah Beachler, and Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter really opened our eye to the amazingness behind the creation of Black Panther. If you were like anyone else in the theater, you were taken aback by the visual aspects of the film. Hannah and Ruth were a big reason you felt that way. These powerhouse women shared with us how creating Wakanda allowed them to stretch their talent.
The Production Designer Comes First
Hannah told us that the production designer is usually hired after the director, once the director and producers decide who they want to take on the role. Hannah was involved very early on in the creation of Wakanda on screen. Production designers have to think about things on the macro level, then work down, even when figuring out where exactly Wakanda would be located.
“We set it in sort of eastern sub-Saharan Africa. You can kind of place it on the border of DRC, right above Burundi and Rwanda. We also took from Omo Valley tribes in Ethiopia. So, you go down a little bit, but we wanted to keep it sub-Saharan.
I looked at a lot of older architecture. That’s really where my process started; really big. Where are we? What is the typography of the land? Next step is, where does each tribe live on that land and why? And what is each tribe’s history. Then I go down and dot through each tribes’ history, and why they live here. There is a story and a reason behind every single thing you see on that screen, coming from me and coming from Ruth.”
How Ruth and Hannah Made Magic
Ruth E. Carter joined production a little later in the timeline, but knew that the best way to catch up on what the team had in mind for the film, and the costumes, was to sit and listen. She spent ample amounts of time with Hannah, listening to the work her team had accomplished so far, and where they wanted the creation of Wakanda to go. Hannah even had a full manual, and a handmade map of Wakanda, with a palace placed 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. The language is in there and you know what it means. I bring the manual back to my team and I’m like, everybody, study this. We are going to call these districts by the names that they made up in the office. I want boards. I want images.
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 rely on any stereotypes at all. Whatsoever. And we want to present this world as a kingdom. What if Africa was not colonized? This is what they would honor.”
Ruth E. Carter’s Blanket Situation
One of the best parts of this interview was being able to sit back and listen to these two women reflect on all of the work they did together. It felt like a reunion of sorts, where two dear friends told the very best stories they could remember. Hannah shared with us that Ruth has an enormous vision board. Every single thing they could dream up for the costume design, went on her team’s board. Hannah would often visit Ruth and her team to see what new items they’ve added to the board, as well as the many wardrobe rooms for jewelry, clothing, etc. Ruth also had shoppers placed all around the world to collect items for the costumes. One of the most intriguing items her shoppers found was from the Lesotho Village, and that one blanket created a unique challenge for the whole team.
“The Lesotho Village is one of the last to be colonized, so they have held on to their traditions. One of their traditions is this blanket that was given to them from England. It is a part of the beginnings of their colonization. But there’s this beautiful blanket that the King of Lesotho embraced for his village in the 1800s. So, this blanket represents the Queen. They have these different designs that they do, and they’re magnificent. They’re beautiful.
The Border Tribe (in Black Panther) use these blankets, based on Ryan Coogler’s trip to South Africa and to the Lesotho Village where he stayed — and he fell in love with these blankets. He was like, ‘Ruth, you have to get these Lesotho blankets.’ So, my South Africa shopper went to the company that made them and we got them in all colors. And then we had to get them all cleared, because they all mean different things.
They hold them dear in their nation. So, we camera tested. We had 300 of these blankets that the whole army was going to use. Ryan said we need to lace them with Vibranium. We need to make sure that they have Vibranium on them. So, we silk-screened the silver patterns.
I got a note from Marvel and from Ryan that the blankets were too thick. And we were a couple of weeks away from shooting. We had been developing the Vibranium on these blankets for weeks and weeks and weeks. We had imported these blankets from South Africa. And it was too late to redo our own design on a blank canvas, but I tried. I called every manufacturer known to man, and they said, ‘we need a six-month lead on the blanket.’
It was nearing Christmas and everyone was getting ready to leave and go for their Christmas break. A few of us decided no break for us. We have to stay and figure out how to make 200 blankets that are beautiful and more pliable. One of my assistants said, ‘you know what. I’m gonna go get a shaver like they use in the barber.’ She took a blanket and she shaved it. It took her about two hours to shave one side. And we said, we can’t take two hours on 200 blankets. So we burned them. I don’t know what fluid they put on it; they lit a match outside and it burnt the cotton fibers, and another part of the fiber that was synthetic stayed. And that’s how they were pliable.”
After that amazing story, Hannah prophetically added that once you reach the level Ruth has, that’s the kind of dedication you have to your work.
Wow. These women are truly phenomenal. There was so much more to this interview, stay tuned for a second part to this article in the near future.
Did you miss the other exclusive interviews with the cast of Black Panther? You can find them all here: Black Panther Interviews.