Fans may be excited to see Black Panther and the Dora Milaje kick butt on the big screen, but none of that would be possible if Wakanda wasn’t fully fleshed out and developed.
That’s where production designer Hannah Beachler comes in. Beachler worked on both Fruitvale Station and Creed with director Ryan Coogler, and she remembers when she first saw on Facebook that Coogler would helm Black Panther. Soon after that, Coogler told Beachler she should come in and pitch her vision of the world to the Marvel team. The very next day, she heard from Coogler that she had been hired.
“I pulled over on the 110 in rush hour traffic and I’m just screaming on the phone,” Beachler said. “Then I got home, and my son, who’s a big Marvel fan, was like ‘OK!’ and he pulled out his Marvel dictionary.”
While Beachler admits she loves all of the sets because there “was something of me that I left in each one of them,” Shuri’s futuristic lab was her favorite. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Jabari throne room was what she had the most trouble envisioning. The Jabari tribe, led by M’Baku, have isolated themselves in the mountains and shunned vibranium, resulting in them being less technically developed compared to the rest of Wakanda.
“It needed to be so different than the rest of Wakanda, you know, and that I think is because I’ve been so steeped into Wakanda and sort of all the design language there that I had to switch gears and go another design language for that.”
The Warrior Falls where important rituals take place was another massive undertaking. While Beachler didn’t have trouble envisioning the set, it was “a massive undertaking.” On the Atlanta back lots, the team built a set that was roughly 30 by 100 and a pool that was 60 by 80 feet. To ensure the water looked real, the team pumped 150,000 gallons for the two weeks they worked on that set. Even though much of that set was done practically, she admits she “was really wowed by the completed Warrior Falls.”
Beachler may be the production designer, but she doesn’t do everything alone.
“My set director and my supervising art director are my left and my right arms, oh and my prop director” Beachler revealed. “We sit down together and we go over the vision and where I want it to go and then they bring who they are into it.”
She particularly praised Jay Hart, her Academy Award nominated set decorator and said she would turn to him when things wouldn’t click in her head.
“When I felt unsure of something, I would bring Jay on set and I’d say ‘tell me what you think,’ and we’d walk through everything.”
After working on Black Panther for 13 months, Bleacher is ready for a”long break.” As her “awesome” experience with the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes to a close, the production designer remains acutely aware of her role’s importance.
“I was gonna say something really cheesy, but with great power comes great responsibility!”