‘Wakanda Forever’ : Ruth Carter on Creating Costumes for ‘Black Panther’ Sequel

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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” not only gives the on-screen women central roles, director Ryan Coogler had women playing major roles behind the camera too.

“Black Panther s” costume designer Ruth E. Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler both returned for the sequel. And for the film’s cinematography, Coogler called in Autumn Arkapaw — who is no stranger to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having worked on “Loki” — to help deliver his vision.

A good chunk of the film involves the underwater city of Talokan, where the franchise’s new character Namor [Tenoch Huerta] rules off the coast of Mexico; thus, lots of Mayan art and cultural influences. “We continue to push the artistic elements. We were exploring the deep ocean and looked at different inspirations in Mayan culture, as well as the Aztecs. We were [also] upgrading and reinventing Wakanda,” says Carter. “I remember Ryan saying every time he sees a new Batman movie, the suit is different. He felt that we could upgrade some of the things in Wakanda. So the Dora Milaje warriors got new armor and Nakia [Lupita Nyong’o] got a new suit.”

Namor ’s right-hand man Attuma, played by Alex Livinalli, wears a fierce headdress that comes from the sea. Carter says that once Coogler saw concepts of hammerhead shark bone structure, he wanted that for the character’s costume, something that also ties into Attuma’s Atlantean origins. “We went to the historians and showed them some of the things were looking at. We learned about Spondylus shells and jade,” Carter says of the elements used for the costume.

Attuma’s community developed under the sea, separate from their land-bound cousins, but the costumes reflected their advanced civilization. “They would use kelp in their costumes. We looked at how they used shells, stone and jade,” she says. “For the water scenes, we had a 20-foot tank in which we did tests. Divers went down in the water and I had to put them in costumes that included headdresses and capes, just to see what those costumes would do in water, and I ended up putting weights in.”

Beachler notes, “I had not worked with water previously in that way, so that was really new to me, and, I think, pretty new to all of us. I love movies underwater.”

The underwater world was influenced by the Mayans, and Beachler consulted with experts to help “navigate that culture and the meaning behind it,” she says.

“For Wakanda, we took the foundation of what we began with [in “Black Panther”] to … be more detailed, focused and intentional about the work and the inspirations. [Particularly] with the influences and the heritage and ancestry of the different countries in Africa, the different tribes, the different cultures and different traditions,” she says.

For DP Arkapaw, “It’s always difficult to approach something that had been done before, but this time around, because they created it already, it was very familiar to them. So they were guiding me, and that was a huge benefit because they know those strong characters that are already there. Ryan was very open to the format of shooting anamorphic. When you watch the film, you’ll see the visual language and the texture that come with that format. It is very pronounced in this version of Wakanda. It has a very dreamy quality.

“Framing the women in the film was important because it needed to be done in a way that does justice to who they are as actresses, but also their characters in Wakanda. After all, the women are now coming
to the forefront,” says Arkapaw.

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