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Ryan Coogler on How ‘Black Panther’ Broke Barriers Below-the-Line, Too

With more than $1.3 billion at the global box office, “Black Panther” was one of the year’s biggest hits. Though some people expected just another superhero film, the project turned out to be much deeper and more complex than that. Many called it a social turning point because it was the first blockbuster with a mostly black cast. And below the line, the film’s three top department heads were women. Director and co-scripter Ryan Coogler talked about his team and the challenges members faced in preparing the critically acclaimed movie.

Hannah Beachler, Production Designer

“She came to the initial meeting and blew everybody away. She was so detailed in her research, bringing in photos and other images. She wanted to make Wakanda [the film’s fictional location in Africa] a living, breathing place. She has a great eye and works well with visual effects. The set for the coronation-challenge sequence was overwhelming. Everything you saw was built, and that set extended to about 20 feet down; thousands of gallons of water were recycled for the waterfall.”

Ruth E. Carter, Costume Designer

“There were so many costumes! We wanted to represent different ethnic groups and tribes. Growing up, you often hear about Africa as if it were one country rather than a continent, with no respect for the size and diversity of the various cultures. So we tried to make Wakanda reflect that, to seem like a country with a rich and varied history. Doing research, we picked which Wakanda tribe correlates to whch group today. Ruth did an amazing job of building these practical costumes that told the story.”

Rachel Morrison, Cinematographer

“We had worked together on ‘Fruitvale Station,’ and even then I was impressed by her ingenuity, her solutions under pressure. She makes the actors and crew feel comfortable, which is important. Rachel loves to use practical light; even with scenes that would feature a lot of VFX, she would light the set to motivate that, to see how it reacts with actors’ skin. There are several trips to the ‘ancestral plane,’ and we talked about what the colors and the lighting would feel like for each. For those scenes, we were inspired by African sunsets mixed with an aurora borealis. She knew how to light on bluescreen so it would translate.”

Ludwig Göransson, Composer

“Ludwig is a close friend; we’ve been collaborating since film school. With this film, we knew music would make a statement. Ludwig and his wife did research and recording for months in Africa, starting in Senegal and working to South Africa. We wanted to use instruments you wouldn’t normally hear in a superhero film. He would line up instruments with each of the personalities. There is a great deal of scoring and source music in the film, and we ran the gamut, from authentic African music to hip-hop to orchestral music that he wrote.”

Joel Harlow, Makeup Artist
Camille Friend, Hair Department Head

“We were excited by how many different African hairstyles we could represent. We used the ‘Black Panther’ books as a jumping-off point, but with some, we did a full departure. Camille and I worked with Joel and his department to find the look for each tribe. Some would have facial tattooing, such as Okoye [Danai Gurira]. River Tribe members had a lip plate, so Joel and Ken Diaz came up with a technique to make the plate realistic and allow actor Isaach De Bankolé to eat and drink.”

Steve Boeddeker, Supervising Sound Editor/Re-Recording Mixer
Benjamin A. Burtt, Supervising Sound Editor
Brandon Proctor , Re-Recording Mixer
Peter Devlin, Production Sound Mixer

“This film had so many sound needs. What would Wakanda technology sound like, because it was all based on [fictional metal] vibranium? It had to be realistic but futuristic. We wanted each weapon to have its own signature sound. The R&D was really fun. We wanted things to sound high-tech yet organic. So we used animal sounds; a hummingbird sound was amplified to become the basis for the vehicles that fly around. We tried to get dialogue in every scene, and we had some crazy sets, with gunfire, explosions, water pumping nonstop in the waterfall scenes.”  

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