I was invited on an all expense paid trip by Disney to attend the Red Carpet Black Panther World Premiere. I hope you enjoy my interview with Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler.
A movie isn’t a movie without an incredible costume designer and production designer. These two designers alone can make or a break a movie. Fortunately Black Panther chose the best of the best. Grab a cup of coffee while you dive into my interview with Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Bleacher!
Interview with Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler
Ruth E. Carter is a well known Costume Designer with plenty of accolades that she almost needs no introduction, but here it goes. She is a 2 time OSCAR nominated Costume Designer for Malcolm X and Amistad and EMMY nominated for ROOTS 2016. Ruth is also the Costume Designer for the recently released films Kidnap and Marshall, and most recently Black Panther. Hannah Beachler is the Production Designer for Black Panther, with no less than 20 movie credits to her name as a Production Designer, including such films as Creed, Fruitvale Station as well as Beyonce’s Lemonade! Hannah is an Art Directors Guild award winner for Beyonce’s Lemonade as well as a Primetime Emmy nominee. Without further ado, please enjoy this amazing interview with Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler.
With a film this big, where do you start? Is it a fluid kind of creative process? Do you come in with a certain set of ideas that change and evolve based on how the characters progress?
Hannah: I come on first. Production designer is usually on films first after the director, hired by the director and the producers. Ryan was really good about guiding me, and my process is really about starting at the macro. It was really about where is Wakanda on the continent of Africa because that’s going to then determine everything that goes around. We set it in sort of eastern sub-Saharan Africa. Basically you can kind of place it on the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, right above Burundi and Rwanda. Kibuye was there, Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. We also took from Omo Valley Tribes in Ethiopia. We went down a little bit, but we wanted to keep it sub-Saharan, we wanted to keep it very specific. I reached into Western Nigeria, so the Efik people and the Igbo people and the Insivity language, which you’ll see in the film a lot.There is a story and a reason behind every single thing you see on that screen coming from me and coming from @iamRuthECarter - via @chinchilla1970 talking about the research done for #BlackPanther #BlackPantherEvent Click To Tweet
I did reach into Nigeria, Lagos. Did a lot of research in Nairobi and the bigger cities around, Kenya and in South Africa, Joburg, Cape Town just for some of the architecture. I looked at lot of old architecture. That’s really where my process started really big. Where are we? Then it was like what is the typography of the land? Next step is where does each tribe live on that land and why? Also, what is each tribe’s history. Then I go down and dot through each tribes’ history, and like this is why they live here. There is a story and a reason behind every single thing you see on that screen coming from me and coming from Ruth.
Every single tiny, little detail – it so intentional. Really meaningful and thoughtful and everything that we did from the colors to the every little thing. We were in a couple like really personal spaces.If you look around, you’re gonna see that character. A lot of the process for me was taking big spaces and making them feel intimate because that’s how the continent felt me to when I was there. When I was in South Africa, it’s like you look around and it’s these giant spaces, even when you’re in the city, but there’s an intimacy and that comes from the culture and the people. That’s really where I started my whole thing and just kept working that research and development for that entire time that we were there.
Ruth: Their train had already left the station by the time I got on. 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 saying ‘let me see everything.’ And she said, ‘hey, I’ve got this manual.; I open it up and there’s like a map of Wakanda. It has a royal palace in the middle.Everything has to be beautiful. We are not going to lie in any stereotypes at all - whatsoever. We want to present this world as a kingdom. What if Africa was not colonized? via @iamRuthECarter #BlackPanther Costume Designer… Click To Tweet
It has districts of Wakanda 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. I bring the manual back to my team and tell everybody – STUDY THIS. We are going to call these districts by the names that they made up in the office. I want boards, I want images. We were looking at Afropunk. We’re looking at modern fashion. We’re moving everything forward. Everything has to be beautiful. We are not going to lie in any stereotypes at all – whatsoever. We want to present this world as a kingdom. What if Africa was not colonized?
This is what they would honor. 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. 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 it, they’re aware of their richness. 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 coming in the — I mean arriving in the movie. But on set you can hear them.
We upped the ante on the color. If you go to Africa, you see people walking around with color. You see a brown guy with a yellow shirt and red pants. That’s just the norm. We’re not reinventing anything, we’re just bringing it out. We’re just honoring it and holding it up. That’s how we started.
Ruth E. Carter had created a huge vision board, there was a gigantic world filled with masks from all different tribes, there were seamstresses, leather workers, metal workers, jewelry makers, mold makers – a mold room and a jewelry room.
Hannah: When I first walked into Ruth’s space, it went on forever. First of all, I’ve never see anything so big. It was the top of floor of an entire building, and I’m telling you it was ginormous. I walked in and the whole time, I don’t even know, I was on another planet. A wall of just this beautiful collage of references.
The department has all of this. I’m walking around with Ruth and she’s showing me stuff. Every time she’d show me something, I’d be like YEAGGGGHHHH! 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. You know, at first it’s like everything. I was like, oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. I didn’t wanna leave. I think they had to drag me. She’s like I gotta go to a meeting – but you can stay as long as you want. It was like a rallying cry, it just inspired me, t was that second wind. Every once in a while I’d go over to Ruth’s – I’m back, you know, to look and see of all this beautiful texture and color.
Ruth respected Hannah and her artistry so much, so it was inspiring to see Hannah excited for Ruth’s work – we’re gonna be going forward. Ruth had shoppers in South Africa, Nigeria and South Korea. Her goal was to work with authentic materials from different countries and tribes including the The Lesotho Village and their blankets!
Ruth: The Lesotho Village, they’re one of the last to be colonized, and so they have held onto their traditions. One of their traditions is this blanket that was given to them from England, it is a kind of a part of the beginnings of their colonization. There’s this beautiful blanket that the King of Lesotho embraced for his village in the 1800s. This blanket represents the Queen. They have these different designs that they do, and they’re magnificent, they’re beautiful.
Based on Ryan Coogler’s trip to South Africa and the Lesotho Village where he stayed, he fell in love with these blankets. Ryan told Ruth that she had to get the Lesotho blankets. The Border Tribe use these blankets in the film. Ruth’s South Africa shopper went to the company that made them and got them in in all colors. They had to be cleared first because they all mean different things.
Ruth: They hold them dear in their nation. So, we camera tested. We had like 300 of these blankets that the whole army was gonna use. Ryan said we need to lace them with Vibranium, we need to make sure that they have Vibranium on them. We silk-screened the silver patterns so they had all those silver elements to them. That was all the screening process. Then we camera-tested the blankets. Then I got a note from Marvel and Ryan that the blankets were too thick. 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. It was too late to redo our own design on a blank canvas, but I tried. I called every manufacturer known to man, and they were like we need a six-month lead on the blanket.I was always sleepy-looking, 'cause I was always sleepy. And every time @ryancoogler text me, he’d say did I wake you up? And I’d say no. - via @iamRuthECarter talking about sleepless nights while working on #BlackPanther -… Click To Tweet
It was nearing Christmas and everyone was getting ready to leave for their Christmas break. A few of us decided no break for us, we have to stay and figure out how to make 200 blankets that are beautiful more pliable. They were too stiff, the pile was too heavy. They kind of just sat on top as opposed to draping on top. One of my assistants said I’m gonna go get a shaver like they use in the barber and I’m gonna shave these blankets down. she took a blanket and she shaved it, it took her about two hours to shave one side. We can’t take two hours on 200 blankets, so we burned them. Someone else came, I don’t know what the fluid they put on it and they lit a match outside and it burnt the cotton fibers and another part of the fiber that was synthetic stayed That is how they became pliable.And that’s the level, for which when you get to this level, that you work. - via @chinchilla1970 talking about working on #BlackPanther - #BlackPantherEvent Click To Tweet
Chad was styled impeccably. How did you come about knowing what to put him in?
Ruth: When you look at the cast there is kind of the antagonist and the protagonist. Chadwick is the king and then Michael B. Jordan is the antagonist. The king is royal, the king is THE KING. We decided that the new Black Panther suit was going to be a newer technology, more streamline, more beautiful and that translates into his everyday wardrobe. I tried to pick things that I felt that would be body conscious. You see he wears a lot more knits and sweaters so that you see his arms. He was fun to dress. We did the embroidery on his tailcoat, that was a fun process. We tried so many different embroidery styles on there and I was never really satisfied. He would put one on and he was like, ‘yeah, I feel like the Commodores right now’. I’m like okay, wrong – wrong idea.
I presented the problem to Ryan who was just so wonderful about helping you problem solve. He said, here, I saw this beautiful dashiki and it had a gorgeous embroidery pattern on the front. Use that – and then it was done.
Which would you say was your favorite set?
Ruth: Shuri’s lab.
Hannah: That one was. As the sets were coming together the actors would be like, oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh. We knew Shuri’s was going to be the last one. Letitia would say to me ‘mine better good’. Every time I saw her I was like it’s going to be, you’re not even going to believe it – and she was like okay. She wasn’t believing me and I was like it is. You have no idea what’s happening over there. We worked really hard on that one – I think it was kind of Kevin’s favorite as well, he had told me. We just put a lot of heart into it, and then when she walked in that day she went around that circle and was screaming around the circle. Then she saw me and she goes you did it. I was like I told you, I told you it was gonna be awesome.
It was just a lot of fun because she’s young, she’s a genius, she dressed fabulously. There’s a lot to her, she’s her brother’s keeper, she wants to protect Wakanda, she is loyal to her mother and her father. 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.
Let me just put it like this, she’s the smartest person on earth, man or woman. We had to reflect that, but we also wanted to reflect in the big graffiti piece that you see in the centerpiece. We brought in a gentleman, Brandon Sadler, who has done a lot of murals for the Afropunk Festival. He’s out of Atlanta, he’s fabulous and you’ll see his work all over Atlanta. It’s usually the big koi fish that you see everywhere, and up in Cabbagetown you’ll see a bunch of his work on that. Brought him in and involved him ’cause I was walking my dogs and I saw his work on that wall and I had taken a picture of it. Funny story – I go to Ryan and I said I have to show you, and he’s like, no, wait I just went to Afropunk, I gotta show you this. So, we both whip out our phones. It’s the same person. I’m like we have to get him in here to do something, so I called him up and I said would you be interested in… And we worked this design together. And I’m like I want you and he came in. I’m like it’s gonna take forever to get this done and we are up against the wall – how is he gonna do this. He just came in chill, we had a design, and by hand he painted all of that in two days. Each day he probably spent like maybe five hours on it. He’d come in at night and do it. So, every night I’d come in and be like WOW. Ten I’d go away and then he’d come in that night. In two nights, in probably ten hours, he did that whole thing.
Which would you say was your favorite costume?
Ruth: I had a lot of favorites in there, lots of favorites. I’m gonna say one of my favorites is when you first see Angela Bassett. That felt very royal and very queenly. You knew she was the Queen of Wakanda. I would say that one.
Hannah: Everybody was fainting over like Ruth’s costumes every day. Every time I’d see them, I was like well somebody had to roll in a couch behind me.. My Supervising Art Director, Allen Hook, he is this like six-five man who is a football player, in this forties, has a couple of daughters. He’s from South Carolina, big gruff guy and he comes up to me after he sees that outfit (Angela Bassets), like totally guy-guy and he goes I’m just tellin’ ya, like I’m really moved right now by Angela Bassett’s outfit. He’s like I think I’m gonna get some tears in my eyes and he started getting red-eye like he was gonna cry. He was like I have never in my life see anything so beautiful, ever in my life – and he said it like ten times. He couldn’t stop talking about it. And how beautiful, like he was moved by, that’s what her clothes were like when they walked into the room. Like everybody was moved.
Ruth: I guess he kind of got the tissues and got it all cleaned up and he came over to me and he said that they wanna put a blanket around that fragile piece because it’s freezing out. And I’m like thanks, Allen, thanks, but can you get back?
Hannah: And everybody was moved when Michael came on and he didn’t have a shirt on.
Ruth: I wanna take credit for that, but I can’t.
If it were up to Ruth and Hannah, they would have stuck around talking about the costumes and production design all day. But alas, this concluded our interview with Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
Black Panther Official Trailer
BLACK PANTHER stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. The film is directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Nate Moore, Jeffrey Chernov and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole wrote the screenplay.
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