Behind the Design

Creating Wakanda: How Travel Inspired the Design of Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’

It will be hard for you not to want to visit Wakanda after you see Marvel Studios’ newest blockbuster “Black Panther.” There’s just one catch: You can’t. Well, sort of.

The fictional nation is the homeland of Black Panther, King T’Challa, who made history as the first superhero of African descent in mainstream American comics when his character debuted in 1966.

Imagined by director Ryan Coogler and set designer Hannah Bleachler, the film’s setting delivers a reverential treatment of Africa’s lush landscapes, from the rolling savannahs and verdant grasslands to its bustling markets and urban cityscapes.

In an exclusive interview, Beachler spoke with Marriott TRAVELER‘s Editorial Director Marc Graser on how she created this otherworldly landscape and the travels that inspired the final product.

“Building a country and a civilization, you really have to start at the beginning and that’s what I did,” Bleacher says of the process of bringing the hidden African nation of Wakanda to life.

Their Wakanda feels warmly familiar and yet is unlike anything you’ve ever seen — it beautifully balances the African traditions and ways of life that have been practiced for centuries with a tricked out, technological dream world fit for a Marvel fanboy or girl.

Beachler and Coogler, who had previously worked together on “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”, collaborated closely to create more than just cinematic set pieces, but a fully fleshed out world with cities and a culture that helps bring out the heart of the film.

Their Wakanda feels warmly familiar and yet is unlike anything you’ve ever seen

In one of the early scenes in “Black Panther”, T’Challa’s spaceship, the Royal Talon Fighter, soars over these grasslands above sheep herders and farmers before bursting through a hidden force field that reveals a futuristic wonderland, known as the Golden City, sitting in a verdant valley and populated by sparkling, gemlike buildings.

Upon returning home from his Avenger adventures, T’Challa says, “This never gets old.”

Moviegoers will soon discover that at the heart of Wakanda and the source of its technologic prowess is Vibranium, a fiercely protected, and sought after, semi-natural resource mined from an asteroid mountain with innumerable scientific applications, even healing properties. Inside this mountain, sits Shuri’s lab – The Wakanda Design Group. Shuri is T’Challa’s younger sister, princess of Wakanda and the brains behind the Black Panther suit, as well as all of Wakanda’s technological advancements.

Bleacher says this set is one of her favorites and it makes sense. It’s a very stylish, high-tech lab that matches Shuri’s playful spirit with bold graphic murals paired with clean white workspaces for building her next Vibranium-powered gadget. Shuri is the ultimate innovator, representing the never-ending promise and modernity of Wakanda.

In contrast to the Lab is M’Baku’s striking lair in the snow-capped mountains of Wakanda. M’Baku is a challenger to T’Challa’s throne and leader of the White Gorilla tribe. If Shuri represents Wakanda’s modernity, M’Baku represents Wakanda’s old ways, living off the land and less reliant on technology. His lair reflects this. Hanging log beams point towards the outside imbuing a rustic feeling, but at the same time the interiors have a smooth modern minimalism, an almost Scandinavian feel with clean wooden angles, a nod that we are still in Wakanda.

This movie is a love letter to Africa, to its people, its diverse topography, culture and traditions

Beachler speaks of the color, textures and food she experienced while traveling in South Africa and how much she enjoyed Johannesberg, all of which shines through in a Golden City district known as “Step Town.” Here we find street vendors grilling meat like chisanyama or South African braai, as well as woven bags for sale on the street and people with a radical sense of style.

“Being in Africa…It certainly takes more than being black to understand African culture, so going there really informed me of the connection that you have but don’t really understand until you get there and the scope and scale of the landscape, the people, the colors the textures, the textiles, the food,” Beachler says.

She captures the Africa travelers could visit today in Jo’burg, Lagos or Accra — except for the futuristic people movers adorned with street art.

“Going to Africa isn’t what you’re told. It’s not what you think. It’s a whole different place,” Beachler says. “There is a sense of pride. There is joy. There is happiness.”

This movie is a love letter to Africa, to its people, its diverse topography, culture and traditions. You can feel the love throughout the film. The fight scenes are fast-paced, but the camera lingers on the scenery. Coogler seems to want you to take it in and immerse yourself in Wakanda like any other place in real life.

Listen to the Podcast

Beachler shared with Marriott TRAVELER just how she worked with Coogler to accomplish this monumental task and how travel to Africa, as well as Busan, South Korea, inspired her work — and how her designs wound up on the big screen.

You can listen to the full interview below:


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