Author: Sherronda J. Brown
We have Black women to thank for the amazing Afrofuturistic aesthetics seen in the Black Panther teaser trailer. Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler are two of the film industry’s most promising creatives, working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the world displayed on the screen is immersive, authentic, and moving.
As Production Designer, Beachler’s position is essential to filmmaking, especially when it comes to telling convincing stories. Visionaries in this role work closely with the director to determine the overall look of the film, and Beachler’s work on Black Panther is sure to be incredible. Carter’s talents shine through, evident in the allure of her costuming for the Wakandans. She weaves together details from the story and script to craft threads which testify to the soul of each character, working to help us understand the world around them and their place within it.
These women are world-builders. With Black Panther, it is clear that the two strike a balance between vibrancy, imagination, and authenticity. The teaser trailer is under two minutes, but its awe-inspiring visuals linger for far longer and beckon us to revisit them again and again — so much so that the trailer was viewed nearly 90 million times within the first 24 hours of it dropping. This trailer begs to be repeatedly devoured, and traversed, and contemplated, because it looks so damn stunning.
Costume Designers and Production Designers are just two of the many unsung heroes behind film-making. They work with the director and other members of the crew to ensure that the film not only looks good, but also feels believable within the world of the story that is being told. Both of these roles require precision, artistry, and imagination to create this world.
If the world-building is not achieved convincingly, no amount of brilliant direction, acting, or storytelling can save the production. A performance may be award-worthy, directed by a true auteur and written by a true poet, but if it is not grounded in a world that is consistent and believable, in which audiences are able to connect with the characters, then it is wasted. Poorly designed costumes, sets, props, or backdrops can quickly take the audience out of the story and cause them to lose their investment in the characters and the plot. The work of these designers keeps audiences engaged from start to finish when it is well-achieved.
With Costume Design, deliberate choices are made. Carter spoke with Elle Magazine about her decisions to pull from African tribal aesthetic to find inspiration for her costuming in Black Panther.
“I’m looking at the whole continent and a wide range of people, like the Masai and the Suri. It all becomes a part of the framework of Wakanda. Most people who read the comic books know Wakanda is a mountainous area; it’s a secret place that’s not necessarily trading and interacting with the rest of the world. They’re a little bit more advanced in technology than other civilizations. We are creating that world, and trying to create a culture and pride that feels authentic to the specific location.”
Many are familiar with Carter’s work, though they may not know it. She has directed the costuming for some of our most treasured films, including Selma, Love & Basketball, Crooklyn, School Daze, Mo’ Better Blues, B*A*P*S, and The Meteor Man. She also worked on four episodes of the recent Roots reboot. Her vision has been essential to films that are steeped in unapologetic Blackness, and we are already seeing some of her best work in Black Panther.
Hannah Beachler began her career in Production Design with a low-budget Lifetime project just ten years ago, and immediately fell in love with the craft. From there, she has gone on to work on some of the most visually-imposing titles made in recent years. Beyoncé’s visual album premiered last year with striking imagery conceptualized by Beachler. A project of vulnerability, filled with both melancholy and rapture, Lemonade delivered powerful and resplendent artistic expression of Black womanhood that astounded its witnesses. In the Academy Award-winning Moonlight, Beachler expertly captures the stylistic vision of director Barry Jenkins, bringing together the “South Beach pinks and teals and neons and Cuban architecture with the grit of the projects in a way that would provide a canvas for a story that completely turns the idea of masculinity on its head.” Beachler also lent her talents to the critically-acclaimed Creed and Fruitvale Station, both of which boast impressive imagery, which marks Black Panther as her third project with director Ryan Coogler.
There is such value and purpose in having Black creatives behind the camera and behind the scenes when telling stories about Black people. From what we have seen in the first Black Panther trailer, it is evident that Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler have helped to capture Wakandan royalty and warrior spirit in legendary fashion with costuming and visuals, plumbing the depths of ancestral love, cultural pride, and Afrofuturism. These two talented women have played integral parts in bringing Wakanda to life, and I am endlessly thankful for their magic.
Sherronda J. Brown is a native North Carolinian with an academic background in English, Media Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, and African American & African Diaspora Studies. She primarily writes pop culture and media analysis through a black feminist lens, and is passionate about social justice, black feminisms, and zombies. You can support her work by subscribing to her Patreon or making a one-time donation to her PayPal.