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Meet the Woman Behind the African Utopia in ‘Black Panther’

Hannah Beachler

Black Women in Entertainment

Meet the Woman Behind the African Utopia in ‘Black Panther’

Production designer Hannah Beachler built Wakanda as an Afrofuturist dream world.

In his 1925 poem “Heritage,” the Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullenbemoans Christ’s whiteness, admitting to “fashion[ing] dark gods, too,” gods “crowned with dark rebellious hair.” The intervening decades have made black Americans well-acquainted with black Jesus, black Santa, and all manner of dark gods from culture, and Marvel’s Black Panther is the latest. But Cullen’s poem is most famous for its refrain—”What is Africa to me?” a question that black people of the diaspora have been contending with for 400 years. Panther largely takes place in Wakanda, the hero’s fictional African home and a world designed for the screen by production designer Hannah Beachler. To take Wakanda from comic book pages to cinemas, Beachler had to learn what Africa was to her, and what it might become to viewers worldwide.

“I think of myself as a story designer,” said Beachler of her work. Production designers head films’ art departments, working with directors to create the visual worlds. Beachler served as production designer for Panther director Ryan Coogler’s prior films: 2013’s Fruitvale Station and 2015’s Creed. She also worked on Beyoncé’s Lemonade and 2017 Oscars Best Picture winner Moonlight. Over the past five years, Beachler—the only black woman at the top of her field—has been the mind behind some of black America’s most influential visuals. But Wakanda, an Afrofuturist Eden on a far-away continent, was an entirely new challenge.

“The question is, ‘What is it to be African, and how as African Americans do we relate? How can we connect?’” asked Beachler. Africa has figured large in black American dreams of an existence truly and finally unencumbered by racism, and it’s no coincidence that Hollywood’s first major black superhero film isn’t about an American at all: Even in the Marvel Universe, with its frozen supersoldiers and warlock mystics, a film about black Americans who’d never had to contend with racism would strain credulity…


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I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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