By Diedre Johnson
The jaw-dropping sets of Black Panther and the Afrocentric costumes played an essential role in the storytelling and the performances on screen
The majestic waterfalls, captivating scenes of a technologically-advanced Country, and actors in traditional African garb were all part of the vivid imagination of Ryan Coogler and his set and production directors. For inspiration, they traveled to Africa to absorb the culture, dress, and cultures of the continent.
Production designer Hannah Beachler, Jay Hart, and the team were sent down the coast of South Africa for research in areas such as the Blyde Canyon and Cape Town. We had a team Of people that traveled with us,” Beachler said in an interview with premiumbeat.com.”They were telling us about the history of everywhere we went, the history of the flora and fauna, and what was indigenous to the area. so I was looking at everything. researching everything, because it all got put into the design and design language of Wakanda.”
Beachler, costume concept artist Phillip Boutté Jr., costume designer Ruth E. Carter and others collaborated with director Coogler to create a country that, although fictional, could easily be any part of East Africa. “A big part of the conversation we had was [determining] where Wakanda was located on the continent — what tribes would have migrated to Wakanda 10,000 years prior,” Beachler said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Their director probed with questions to help them all visualize the world they would create for audiences. “Ryan wanted to know what the people did, where did they work? What are the street names? What are the parks called? What are the different provinces in Wakanda, and why are different people living in different climates and with different topography? We had to design all of that because we needed it to be a breathing, living, existing place. In a sense, we all had to become Wakandan.”
Beachler also looked at the Wakanda created in the comic book by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee as she also wanted to respect their Vision. a lot Of the shapes that they used, a lot of the colors that they used, the idea of Wakanda being in a place that was hard to get to, sort of isolated. We took that as source [material] to use as our Golden City, which was our capital of Wakanda,”
The result was large, expansive sets, many built on soundstages in Atlanta. Those included the Hall of Kings, Tribal Council, and Shuri’s workspace, as well as The Great Mound, the throne room, and the casino in South Korea. The extensive set builds lasted six to seven months.
The sets also helped the cast in creating their characters and the world they lived in. “The cast really responds to sets that are as three-dimensional as possible,” executive producer Nate Moore told Black Panther: The Official Movie Special book. “It helps them to really inhabit the characters, inhabit the world in a way that feels realistic. If we tried to do this against a completely blue backdrop, we wouldn’t get the same kind of performance.”
No detail was too exact for the creative design team and. in at least one instance, they knew right away that their deeply researched work had meaning. “For the tribal council room…we have a glass floor and there is old Nigerian lettering on the columns,” Beachler told The Official Movie Special book. “One of the extras from Nigeria came in and said, ‘I can read that story, I know what it says.’ “