Friday, February 9, 2023 — At the Rackham Auditorium, Scott Poulson-Bryant, assistant professor of Afroamerican and African Studies, spoke with Hannah Beachler for the event titled “Wondering Wakanda.” Beachler is a production designer who has been involved in renowned projects such as Black Panther, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Moonlight, and Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade.

During their interview, Beachler went in-depth in describing the role of a production designer. She compared it to being an architect, imagining the whole framework of a film. She related that they work with all movie departments to build the color, story, and design, and are “usually the second person to be hired after a director.”

Beachler had many ideas about what she describes as “telling a story through culture,” and how to do so through Afrofuturism as she did in Black Panther. As such, to her, the fictional African nation of Wakanda is a “what-if '' situation that may have occurred if there was an African country that managed to resist the hold of colonialism. What if they had autonomy over their resources as Wakanda did with vibranium? What if Wakanda was a place of refuge for African peoples that escaped from colonialism, what if those were the different Wakandan tribes? While these elements are not boldly announced in the two Black Panther movies, these were things that she thought about, while adding her own homages to different African cultures through language (they spoke Xhosa in the film) and color.

She explained how she did something similar with Beyonce in Lemonade, imagining, “what if these people who were on plantations were actually being trained in alchemy and chemistry, and creating the future technology?” All of this she described as “redressing traumas” for the black community, owning their suffering and creating stories with it. That is what Afrofuturism is to her.

Later, Beachler revealed how Chadwick Boseman’s death influenced the making of the second film. She spoke about the Black Panther mural they made for the film a day before shooting the scene with it. She and director Ryan Coogler were inspired by murals in real life that were made for Boseman in response to his passing. Along with that, she looked to New Orleans, where she grew up, and how they often celebrate the life of the dead during funerals. She wanted to translate that feeling of celebration within Wakanda Forever.

Finally, she talked about her work on Moonlight, her future transition into Broadway productions with “The Wiz,” and concluded with questions from the audience. Overall, Bechler communicated with much humor and excitement about her role in telling Black stories and how she aims to continue from here on out.