Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler Talks Black Panther Costume and Production Design
If you haven’t seen Black Panther yet, you better go out and get your tickets. The movie has already broken all kinds of box office records, landing in the top five opening weekends of all time. One thing you can’t miss when you see this movie is the beautiful costumes and the amazing visuals. That’s all the work of Ruth E. Carter, Costume Designer and Hannah Beachler, Production Designer.
While I was attending D23 Expo 2017 I was able to see some of the costumes from the film. I immediately wanted to share the creative genius of Ruth E. Carter from that moment. The D23 Costume Showcase was incredible, to see all these beautiful items so close up. When I made the decision to visit the booth to see the designs I was very excited about seeing the Black Panther costume, but I was blown away by them all. When we started our interview with the ladies we asked about the process. How do they get from point A to Z.
On The Creative Process
After the ladies introduced themselves and Ruth asked Hannah to start since she was hired first in the whole process of creating the film.
Hannah B:I come on first. Production designers usually on films first after the director, hired by the director and the producers. Ryan he kinda just like texted me and he was like, yeah, I’m working on Black Panther and I want you to come in. You know, of course I had seen that it was announced that he was doing it. So the process was — and he was really good about guiding me — is starting at the macro. And it was really about like where is Wakanda on the continent of Africa because that’s going to then determine everything that goes around.
And we kind of set it in sort of eastern sub-Saharan Africa. So, basically you can kind of place it on the border of DRC like right above Burundi and Rwanda. So there was like Kibuye was there, Kenya, Uganda, above Uganda, Sudan. So, that’s sort of where we are. And we also took from Omo Valley tribes in Ethiopia. So you go down a little bit, but we wanted to keep it sub-Saharan. We wanted to keep it very specific. We also — I reached into Western Nigeria, so the Efik people and the Igbo people.
And I think a lot of the process for me was taking big spaces and making them feel intimate.
Ruth E. Carter joins the conversation talking about how she gets involved in the process after everything is already moving along, and how she jumps right in to do her part of the job.
Ruth E. Carter: Their train had already left the station by the time I got on. And so, it was really a matter of me starting out being a really good listener, really getting into what they had done, understanding what they had done. I was in Hannah’s office sitting across from her like let me see everything. And she said, hey, I’ve got this manual. And it outlines everything. [LAUGHS] And I open it up and there’s like a map of Wakanda. It has a royal palace in the middle.
It has districts that are explained to the hilt. I was like how long did it take you to do this manual? Everything is written out. The Insivity language is in there and you know what it means. So, I bring the manual back to my team and I’m like, everybody, study this. Study this. Study this. We are going to call these districts by the names and we had the map up in the office. I want boards. I want images.
When picking the costumes for the film, Ruth said they wanted to showcase a modern Africa. They looked heavily into Afropunk, she wanted everything beautiful. The goal was to showcase an Africa that was never colonized. Ruth also shared that she made sure her team worked hard to not showcase any stereotypes in Black Panther.
Carter On the Inspirations of Costumes
Hannah talked about how everything we saw in this film was done on purpose. We got some more insight into what African Tribes inspired costumes like the ones worn by the Dora Milaje.
Ruth E. Carter:You see these images of the Himba girl with her leather drape on and her Himba paced all over her skin and her costume, and she’s pushing like a grocery cart in like a little convenience store. This is like a real photo that I saw.
And I thought, wow, this is like really cool how you can mix ancient indigenous tribal culture with modern. We don’t want to make a documentary. This is a futuristic place. This is a place that has the richest mineral known on earth, Vibranium. They’re aware of their richness. So, let’s just move that forward. Looking at Afropunk, those images that you see on your phone, going through your Instagram, you see that beauty. And that’s some of the beauty that we wanted to infuse. And when you see the Dora Milaje, you see the Maasai tribe, you see the Himba.
The same drape that that girl in the grocery store pushing the cart had in front of her body with the little ringlets on the end of the leather, I put that on the back of the Dora Milaje so that when they walked in the room, Ryan Coogler said I wanna hear them.Can we put stuff on their ankles so that we hear them coming? And hearing them coming on set, I didn’t hear them arriving in the movie. But on set you can hear them.
Hannah On Walking into Carter’s Design Room
Hannah started talking to us about how it felt for her walking into the room Ruth and her team used to style and create all the beautiful costumes we see in the movie. She recalls seeing huge printouts of the world she created in the binder she shared with Ruth all over the room. She talked about the jewelry room in great detail. It was mesmerizing to just sit and listen to them walk us through the process.
Hannah B:Yeah the department have all of this. And I’m walking around with Ruth and she’s showing me stuff. Every time she’d show me somethin’, I’d be like yeahhhhhh. [LAUGHS] Yes. Yes. My edges got snatched. My edges. So, I mean that is everything. Ruth laughed the whole time. The whole time she was laughin’ because it was really that. You had never seen anything like it in your life. I’ve never been in a store in this country where it is represented — complete black culture. Not ever.
On Shopping for Props for the Movie
Ruth was so committed to showcasing everything that’s authentic to the continent of Africa that she had shoppers in various countries and other parts of the world looking for items that were genuine.
Ruth E. Carter:Yeah, and so we did have this vision board. And I had we all had shoppers, and I had one that was in Africa, in South Africa. I had one in Nigeria. I had a shopper in South Korea. And I said I wanna see the real thing. I don’t wanna see the tourists’ trade. I gotta see the real Dogon mask. I gotta see the real Himba drapes. I wanna see the real thing so that I could springboard from there.
The Story of the Lesotho People and The Blankets of the Border Tribe
In the movie, there’s a scene where we see W’Kabi, leader of the Border Tribe attack the Dora Milaje when they decided to fight on the side of T’Challa. The men were adorned with beautiful blankets that were made from the Lesotho Tribe.
Ruth E. Carter: Yes, and so the Lesotho Village they’re one of the last to be colonized, and so they have held on to their traditions. And one of their traditions is this blanket that was given to them from England. So it is a kind of a part of the beginnings of their colonization. But there’s this beautiful blanket that the King of Lesotho embraced for his village and was like in the 1800s. So, this blanket represents the Queen. They have these different designs that they do, and they’re magnificent. They’re beautiful.
And the Border Tribe they use these blankets, based on Ryan Coogler’s trip to South Africa and to the Lesotho Village where he stayed — and he fell in love with these blankets. So, he was like, Ruth, you have to get these Lesotho blankets. I was like okay. I’m gonna get ‘em. So, my South African shopper went to the company that made them and we got them in in all colors. And then we had to get them all cleared, because they all mean different things. They have meanings as they hold them dear in their nation.
So, we camera tested. We had like — I don’t know — 300 of these blankets that the whole army was gonna use. And Ryan said we need to lace them with Vibranium. Now what that means — okay. [LAUGHS] We need to make sure that they have Vibranium on them. So, we silk-screened the silver patterns that you see in the movie. So you see they had all those silver elements to them.
I got a note from Marvel and from Ryan that the blankets were too thick. And we were like a couple of weeks away from shooting. And we had been developing the Vibranium on these blankets for weeks and weeks and weeks. We had imported these blankets from South Africa.
Over the holiday break, Ruth and a few members of the team decided to work on the blankets. Their first solution was the shave the blankets down, it took them two hours per side. Then someone suggested burning the cotton fibers off the blanket. That’s how the ended up making them pliable.
Ruth E. Carter on Dressing Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa
All of Ruth’s wardrobe choices were amazing, we asked about what process she used to dress Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa.
Ruth E. Carter: Well, when you look at the cast, you know, there is kind of the antagonist and the protagonist. You know, Chadwick is the king and then Michael B. Jordan is the antagonist. So, the king is royal. The king is the king. We decided that the panther suit, well, the new suit was going to be a newer technology, more streamline, more beautiful, less for us than the Civil War one was. And so, that translates into his everyday wardrobe. I tried to pick things that I felt that would be body conscious. You see he wears a lotta more knits and sweaters — so that you see his arms.
On Their Favorite Set from the Film
Our last question was about the sets from the movies. We asked which one was the ladies favorite and they both agreed on one. There were so many beautiful things to see in this film, I’m not sure I could pick a favorite.
Hannah B: Shuri’s Lab. That one was — Letitia would say to me like — so as the sets were coming, and the actors would be like, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. And we knew Shuri’s was gonna be last. So, Letitia would be like mine better be good. And every time I see her I was like it’s gone be. Like, you’re not even gonna believe it. And she was like okay. Like, she wasn’t believing me. And I was like it is. It’s you have no idea what’s happening over there. And so, we worked really hard on that one. I think it was kinda Feige‘s favorite as well. He had told me.
And we just put a lotta heart into it, and then when she walked in that day she came up to me and she went around that circle. She was like [SCREAMS] around the circle. And then she saw me and she goes you did it. I was like I told you. I told you it was gonna be awesome.
But it was just a lotta fun, you know, because she’s young. She’s a genius. She dressed fabulously. And there’s a lot to her. You know, she’s her brother’s keeper. She wants to protect Wakanda. She is loyal to her mother and her father. So, all of that went in there. And she’s smarter than Tony Stark. She’s the smartest woman on earth. She’s the smartest person. She’s the smartest person on earth, man or woman. And so we had to reflect that.
Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
BLACK PANTHER is now playing in theatres everywhere!
Read More and Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler
Check out my second post on Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler, where I share how they when from ideas, to the page, and then to the screen.