Since its inception, Wakanda has been a dream for black comic book fans – which meant Black Panther faced quite a challenge in bringing the nation to life on the big screen for the very first time.
Wakanda couldn’t be like any other setting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It had to call on African tradition while creating mind-blowing technology, to portray the ultimate Afrofuturistic society.
After months of deep research into African peoples like the Maasai, the Himba, the Dogon, the Tuareg, and the Basotho – which included traveling to the continent for weeks – production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter were ready to meet the call.
We talked to Beachler and Carter about how they conceptualized their vision of Wakandan tech and brought it to life for the film. (Spoiler alert: they nailed it.)
Here’s a rundown of the stories behind all your favorite gadgets and gear from Black Panther.
The Kimoyo beads were Beachler’s “favorite” piece to work on. While their use started out as an afterthought, Beachler’s creative mind wouldn’t allow her to let them be basic. “It was kind of like, ‘Okay, well, these will work,’ and I kept looking at them like, ‘We can do more than that, can’t we? This is Wakanda!'”
So she took on the project herself, enlisting an illustrator and breaking down what the powers of the beads would be.
At their primary level, the beads function like a cross between a FitBit and an iPhone. But they can be used for much more, depending on your position. For example, Beachler explains, Okoye’s beads can fly the Royal Talon Fighter and access T’Challa’s throne room, while the average Wakandan citizen’s could not.
The beads are also inscribed with Nigerian nsibidi symbols, such as one of two men, talking which stands for communication-related matters, or another of a door, which allows entry. “Everybody really loved them,” said Beachler. “It was really something I pushed for and I’m glad I did because, again, of the small things, it’s one of my favorites.”
Black Panther suits
The iconic Black Panther suits were designed by Ryan Meinerding, head of development at Marvel Studios. In his original sketch, the suit is covered in a Wakandan language and, of course, laced with vibranium, like in the comic books.
So first, Carter had to do some math to determine how the language should be placed on the suit such that when it stretches or shrinks it’s still “aesthetically pleasing.”
Then, she had to create a mold of Chadwick Boseman’s body and get her hands on an evasive fabric known as Eurojersey.
“You have to order this Eurojersey in advance because every superhero uses the same doggone fabric,” said Carter. “You gotta get your bid in because you might not have that fabric available for you if you don’t order enough of it.”
Carter didn’t stop with Meinerding’s deign. She had to place her Midas touch on it, which included coming up with the texture of the suit.
“If you notice, through the ages, like Superman and Batman, they all started out really simple,” she said. “You know, you look at those old 1970s shows, they look like they’re in cotton tights. Sometimes they’re not even fit that well.
“So now you go through the ages and you start seeing them get better and better. There’s all of a sudden this beautiful surface texture and it’s layered. And so I had an opportunity to create a texture that would be reminiscent of the textures of Africa that I saw in many of the art pieces around the continent.”
Carter also incorporated what she calls the Okavango pattern, an arrangement of triangles named after the Botswanan river of the same name.
“That triangle is considered like a sacred geometry,” she said. “And it has certain meanings. I’ve seen that triangle with an eyeball at the top. You know, it’s a real special symbol for Africa.”
T’Challa’s listening devices
Similar to the Kimoyo beads, the listening devices used by T’Challa to communicate with Okoye and Nakia (and eavesdrop on FBI agent Everett Ross as he interrogates Klaue) feature nsibidi. However, it only has the symbol that shows two people talking to each other.
“It needed to be small and needed to be almost invisible, but we still needed to see it.” Beachler said that the medical use of tattoos inspired her design for the listening pods. “We wanted it to be flat [so that] we can see it. We could have made a wearable tattoo, but you would never be able to see it. So we needed to sort of take a little liberty with that.
The Royal Talon Fighter and Talon Fighters
Beachler describes the Royal Talon Fighter as Wakanda’s Air Force One, while the Talon Fighters are the F1 fighters used to escort the main aircraft. The Royal Talon Fighter is “very comfortable and very luxurious” on the inside. From an aerial view, its design is reminiscent of a mask traditionally made by the Dogon.
Beachler also revealed that like most of Wakanda, all of the planes run on vibranium. “If you look at the ceiling of the plane – there’s a couple shots that you’ll see it a little bit – there’s a hub on the ceiling where you see a blue glowing rock and that is vibranium in its rawest form,” explained Beachler. “So that small amount of vibranium will fly the plane.”
The Dragon Flyer
Beachler and director Ryan Coogler drew inspiration from Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s Black Panther comics series for the Dragon Flyer, the peacock-shaped machines that run in the mines. But instead of replicating the comic book version (although Beachler “loved that idea”), the team decided to do a bit of research into different insects and birds that could seamlessly integrate into a new plane design.
“I was like, let me find out what do we do if it was a true helicopter,” she said. “Like what insect kind of feels that way or what thing in nature feels that way.”
After drawing “a bunch of sketches of trying to turn birds into planes,” she landed on the dragonfly. “It became a little more mechanical feeling and a little more retro feeling, and then we went to a really more sleek version of it,” she said. “It had to fit in the film, it had to feel like Shuri designed all of them within a certain time of each other.”
To accomplish that, Beachler looked at the Royal Talon Fighter and morphed that design language into the Dragon Flyer. She credits art director Joseph Hiura and assistant art director Daniel Frank for helping her bring the idea together.
But design wasn’t the only concern. It had to make sense mechanically as well. Beachler asked herself questions like “how do the joints work,” “where do they bend,” and most importantly, “how do they fly.”
When creating the chariots seen in Golden City, Beachler was originally inspired by the bus system in South Africa. “We would see people hanging off of them and there would be so many people on the bus. We wanted to keep that texture, we wanted to keep that feel,” she said. “So the natural evolution of that would be the maglev in Wakanda.”
But the move ended up being more personal for Beachler and Coogler. “It was important for Ryan in that sense, because of being from the bay in San Francisco, you know, you have the trolley, and me being from New Orleans with the streetcar,” she said. “So it’s so similar to how we in how we travel round in our own cities and part of who we are.”
While coming up with the technologically advanced Golden City, the two wanted to make sure that Wakanda still felt grounded, by including something familiar but also futuristic. “[The audience is] used to seeing that, but you also have the technology where it’s magleving off of the vibranium strip that runs down the middle of the street.”
Towards the end of Black Panther, Shuri joins the fight against Erik Killmonger with some badass gauntlets shaped like panthers.
While the pieces were designed by Meinerding (who’s worked on the Black Panther suits from Captain America: Civil War and this movie, as well as Captain America’s costume), Beachler and Coogler played a hand in making it something special for Wakanda’s top tech genius.
“That was the first piece of tech for Shuri, so when we were developing all the other tech, it had to sort of be ahead of that or at least on that level,” explained Beachler.