I can’t say enough about Black Panther. The movie evoked so many emotions and thoughts that I have to write more than one blog post about it. Today we’ll focus on representation, in the forms of: origin and heritage, costumes, hair and makeup, gender and age
A cast and crew of hundreds of people literally came from around the world to create the majesty that is Black Panther. People from countries in Africa, North America, South America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia were all represented in the film. Here are a few:
Angela Bassett (Queen Mother Ramonda) – St. Petersburg, FL (born in NYC and also raised in NC)
Isaach de Bankole (River Tribe Elder, w the lip plate) – C’ote d’Ivoire
Nabiyah Be (Linda) – Brazil & Jamaica
Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa) – Anderson, SC
Sterling K. Brown (Prince N’Jobu) – St Louis, MO
Connie Chiume (Mining Tribe Elder)- South Africa
Ryan Coogler (Director), Oakland, CA
Winston Duke (M’Baku) – Tobago
Jason Elwood Hanna (stunts) – Nassau, Bahamas
Danai Gurira (Okoye) – Zimbambwe (born in Grinnell, Iowa)
Michael B Jordan (Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens, N’Jadaka) – Santa Ana, CA
Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi) – England and Uganda
John Kani and Atwande Kani (Elder T’Chaka and Young T’Chaka, and real-life father-son acting duo) – South Africa
Florence Kasumba (Ayo) – Uganda and Germany
Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia) – Mexico and Kenya
Sydelle Noel (Dora Milaje) – Grenada
Danny Sapani (Border Tribe Elder) – Ghana and England
Rashad Smith (stunts) – Hattiesburg, MS
Dorothy Steel (Merchant Tribe Elder) – Atlanta, GA (side note: I heard a snippet just today on radio station V-103 as part of the morning news blurbs that Ms. Steel is 91 years old, and has been acting for only the past 3 years – it’s NEVER too late to pursue anything you want to do)
Denzel Whitaker (young Zuri) – Torrance, CA
Forest Whitaker (Zuri) – Longview, TX & Carson, CA
Shaunette Renee Wilson (Dora Milaje) – Georgetown, Guyana (SN: Guyana, STAND UP!)
Leitia Wright (Shuri) – Guyana and England (SN: once again, Guyana, STAND UP! )
I am sure there were many more states and countries represented – but could you just take a minute and marvel (yes, marvel) at the representation of our black and brown brothers and sisters?
We also had representation in the attire, hair and makeup for the movie. Can we take a moment to reflect on the 30+ year career or Ruth Carter, two-time Academy Award nominee (for Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and Steven Spielberg’s Amistad)? She also did the costumes for many other Spike Lee movies: School Daze, Mo’Better Blues, Do the Right Thing, and Chi-Raq, as well as The Five Heartbeats, What’s Love Got to Do with It, Love and Basketball (one of my favorite movies), Four Brothers and Sparkle (Ms. Whitney Houston’s last cinematic effort), the Butler, Selma and television’s Being Mary Jane. So the lady has put in the work, for many years, and through many different genres and time periods; she has been recognized in the form of two Oscar nominations, but the ultimate cinematic recognition has not been bestowed up on her…yet. Now have you seen Black Panther? From the authentic attire in 1992, to the various tribes represented in Wakanda, Ms. Carter’s designs rang true to form.
The Atlantic did an extensive interview with Ms. Carter, which you can find here: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/02/why-fashion-is-key-to-understanding-the-world-of-black-panther/553157/
My two favorite paragraphs are:
Of course, Carter couldn’t rely on this familiarity for Black Panther. “We didn’t really have … a visual model of people living in Wakanda,” she told me. “So it was kind of a fantasy or an imagined place for me. It was very intimidating. Creating a world is no joke.” The comic books alone couldn’t explain everything Carter needed to know. So to pull Black Panther off the page, she and her team relied on the Wakanda “bible” created by the director Ryan Coogler and the production designer Hannah Beachler. Carter said she kept four words on her vision board as she designed: Beautiful. Positive. Forward. Colorful. The costumes had to fit seamlessly into the film, telling a story of their own but not competing with or distracting from the plot. The result is a dramatic look that makes clear that Wakandans use clothing as an important form of self- and community expression, to honor their ancestors, and to maintain a progressive social order.
Carter’s first step was to do a deep dive into the continent’s diverse history of dress. “My approach was the same as [it is] on a period film: I did a lot of research,” she said. The textile production, hand-dyeing, and beading techniques of the Tuareg, Zulu, Maasai, Himba, and Dinka peoples helped inspire an eclectic color palette: deep aubergine and crimson, effervescent chartreuse and tangerine, rich jade and silver.
If you saw the movie, I know you would agree with me that Ms. Carter’s vision was “mission accomplished”.
Hair and makeup played an important part as well. Makeup for dark skinned people often comes off as ashy, dry, monotone (because there are not enough shades available). But in Black Panther, every single one of the sisters, from the lightest milk chocolate to the deepest dark chocolate hue, looked smooth, vibrant, moisturized, properly shaded, colorful, and flawless. Regarding hair, checkout this interview excerpt from The Cut with Camille Friend, who headed up the hair department of Black Panther:
The movie’s hair wizard explained the month-long process of creating Angela Bassett’s wig, why Michael B. Jordan needed to wear extensions, and what it was like working on a film that celebrated natural black hair.
What was the overall creative direction for the hair in Black Panther?
There were three parts. For the “traditional” look, we used inspiration from the Zulu tribe, the Maasai tribe, and the Hima tribe. Then we looked at the modern styles in the natural-hair movement. Finally we looked at the Afropunk movement, which has a lot of natural and creative styling. Also, there are five tribes in the story, and we had to create different looks for each tribe.
What was it like working on a movie where everyone was styled in natural hair?
There’s no press and comb in this movie. No relaxers, no nothing! That was one of the things that I really was firm about. I requested that people come with their natural hair. People were like, “Are you sure?” and I was like, “Yes, I am sure! We have a qualified staff of hair people who are phenomenal and who are well-versed in natural hair.”
A dark skinned, kinky haired little girl – who wore her hair in various cornrow styles for years, who braided her own hair and didn’t get a press till 10 and a perm till 14/15, who got ridiculed for hair texture and hair styles, and lack of long full, lush, flowing hair; who got ridiculed for her darker skin and broad nose; who didn’t see many stars or celebrities who looked like her growing up – swelled with immense pride at seeing the natural hairstyles, the flawless darker skin and makeup, the bold and colorful authentically African costumes, and the fully realized depictions of gorgeous dark skinned women. Yes, people costumes, hair and makeup are important. They set a tone and mood and look, just like cinematography, scenery and location. And the tone, mood and look of Black Panther is one that completely embraces, celebrates and luxuriates in people of color who look like me. What a powerful piece of artistry that is also affirming to Black womanhood everywhere!