No. 22: Shap­ing Wakanda

Han­nah Beach­ler Pro­duc­tion de­signer

Fast Company - - Contents -

Black Pan­ther pro­duc­tion de­signer Han­nah Beach­ler brought Afro­fu­tur­ism to life.

The Afro­fu­tur­ist sets of Mar­vel’s 2018 block­buster Black Pan­ther, with their blend of mod­ernist forms and tra­di­tional African mo­tifs, were the brain­child of Han­nah Beach­ler, the pro­duc­tion de­signer be­hind Mi­ami’s sun-drenched un­der­side in Moon­light and the work­ing-class Philadel­phia of Creed. She also helped de­velop Bey­oncé’s South­ern Gothic look for the vis­ual al­bum Lemon­ade. For Beach­ler, ev­ery project is a dis­tinct cre­ative chal­lenge. “There’s no unique tool that I use, other than my imag­i­na­tion,” she says. Wakanda, the hid­den African utopia in Black Pan­ther, is a fan­tasy, but it also feels real and tex­tured. How did you ap­proach that? We were rep­re­sent­ing Pan-africa. All the cul­tures came to­gether to cre­ate a Wakanda aes­thetic. I al­ways do re­search, but the Wakanda [set de­sign] “bi­ble” that we used took me months to put to­gether. I think the fi­nal ver­sion was 515 pages, cov­er­ing the 187 sets on the film. Ev­ery time some­one asks me about a par­tic­u­lar item, I can re­cite the thought be­hind it.

One of the most stun­ning sets is the throne room for the char­ac­ter of M’baku, who lives on a snow-capped African moun­tain. What went into that? It’s one of my fa­vorite sets: sim­ple, elo­quent, and beau­ti­ful. Peo­ple have asked me about the walls [made of hang­ing birch logs]. There’s mean­ing in the birch log it­self. It grows in the north; it grows in the cold. And birch is what Na­tive Amer­i­cans gave to the first [Euro­pean] set­tlers when they came, as a sort of peace of­fer­ing, be­cause birch sym­bol­izes an­cient wis­dom and truth. We sharp­ened the birch at the end—weaponiz­ing that truth. It’s pro­tect­ing your­self, and your ances­try, from those who come to take it.

Black Pan­ther was a big-bud­get ac­tion movie, but you’ve worked on sev­eral in­die films about poverty. How does the process com­pare? For Moon­light, we didn’t have a lot of money, so I did sim­ple stuff. I knew we had to see [the main char­ac­ter’s] mom’s drug habit get­ting worse. I thought, You know what she would do? She’d look around her house and see what she could sell. The next step was things just slowly dis­ap­pear­ing from the house. Any elec­tronic that could get her $5, $2, $1, it went out of that set grad­u­ally. The thing that a lot of peo­ple no­ticed was when the TV was gone.

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