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Stateside Podcast: Reimagining Black Life in Wakanda

A headshot Hannah Beachler. She looks into the camera with a serious expression. She holds a blanket around her shoulders, and wears her hair in braids.
Courtesy of Hannah Beachler
"Black Panther" production designer, Hannah Beachler.

Ruth E. Carter took home an Oscar last night for her costume design work in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." Her work, along with the architecture, government, and rituals of Wakanda, leaned into Afrofuturistic design.

Hannah Beachler, the production designer for both movies, visited the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities as a guest speaker on Afrofuturism earlier this year. Beachler, who considers herself a proud Midwesterner, worked with designing the world of Wakanda.

Beachler noted how important it was to see positive portrayals of Black life in mainstream media.

“When you can provide something on a platform as big as a Marvel film for people to see. . . that’s a possible world," Beachler said. "The agency and autonomy of Black people is a possibility and here’s what that could look like, here’s what it would maybe have looked like. So now you get to see yourself as independent and individual which you are not afforded in this society.”

Positive representation, Beachler said, doesn't neccessarioly require portrayals of Black folks accomplishing monumental things. For Black audiences, there is value in seeing Black film characters eating, smiling, and walking without fear, and having access to education and technology.

“People are like, ‘Representation matters,' and stuff, and when I said those few little things, it’s like that type of representation,” she said. “It doesn't have to be like the big futuristic city of Wakanda. It is just literally seeing yourself walking down the street, free.”

One challenge for Beachler was figuring out how to memorialize King T’Challa. In "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" a mural honors both the character and the actor who portrayed him, Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer in 2020. Beachler said it was hard to find an image that would be best to memorialize Boseman.

“We were trying to find one image of Chadwick,” Beachler said. “I’d send images to Ryan [Coogler] like ‘How do we want him to appear? In repose or stately?' He had to decide, does he want him in the Panther outfit or no, do we just see him as the king? [Which] is what we ended up deciding to do.”

An early scene in the film shows King T'Challa's family and friends in a funeral procession. Along the path is a large black-and-white mural of Boseman. Beachler said that when they shot the scene, it was the cast's first time seeing the memorial.

“That is all coming from a cleansing of these friends and family of Chadwick,” Beachler said. “And when they saw it, I remember Danai (Gurira, an actress) just grabbing me and giving me a big hug and kind of just cried together.”


  • Hannah Beachler, production designer for Black Panther and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

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Music in this episode byBlue Dot Sessions.

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Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Public from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.
Dan Netter joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2022 and is a senior at Michigan State University studying Journalism and Social Relations & Policy.