Hannah Beachler’s collaboration with director Ryan Coogler seems to be going in unexpected directions. The production designer previously won an Oscar for creating the Afro-futuristic world of Wakanda in Marvel Studio’s blockbuster Black Panther. In the sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, not only did the production designer have the responsibility of helping create the underwater world of the Talokan Indians, but she also witnessed the grievous loss of the death of Chadwick Boseman, the “Black Panther” co-star. Actor just a few months before shooting begins.
Beachler says the extra time allowed the cast and crew to process their grief and get over the desperate questions that plagued them: “What is the purpose and what are we doing and what is all this for?”
It must have been exhilarating when Angela Bassett became the first actress in a Marvel film to receive her Golden Globe Award for acting. Did that mean something special to you?
It really did. I said to myself, “This movie is still making premieres. We’re still making history with this film.” And that means something. And especially someone like Angela, whose legacy has long been revered by so many. Well, it’s just so special. And for Chadwick’s memory, it was just exciting. And for Ryan, a kind of validation of all the hard work. Not that you’d ever do it for that reason, but it’s nice to be recognized. And again for Angela, who has been on this stage before for What’s Love Got to Do With It. And she’s an icon.
Remember what Ryan said was his top priority in terms of design for the second film?
Talokan. He told me how he wanted this underwater world steeped in Mesoamerican culture. And he thought of Maya, and that was really important to him, because we want to make sure that we approach this the same way we approached Wakanda, with the same kind of integrity and ingenuity and understanding of that culture to make a new culture emerging from it.
Did you feel like you had the freedom to do whatever you had to do to build the Talokan world within the MCU universe?
Ryan and I discussed how we wanted this to be a slightly darker world, more of a realistic ocean. But there was definitely freedom to explore and try to find, as there were over 100 iterations of the world before we found which one we would delve into. They just kept working on it and pushing the design and asking themselves, “How does that work or why is that there?” And they were there for the ride and I would show them every few weeks or so and they would give me comments, but there was never a moment when they said, “Not that. That’s awful.”
You walk in knowing that first won’t be right, but it’s a place to start and then you move on. I talk to experts and I learn something new every day. Like when I started learning about thermal springs and basically they power Norway. It’s like, how would we use the hot springs to power this world? You keep learning about this thing and then give it that kind of futuristic spin. After so many years they would have developed something like that to get around the city and understand the currents and how that works and they would have hijacked some fiber optic cables and created a communication system to watch the country folk.
A regular moviegoer might think that much of the Talokan world was rendered using visual effects. There’s a scene where Namor descends underwater into his throne room and speaks to his people, and it’s almost entirely live-action. How long did it take to assemble?
It was a long time because there was a lot of testing with materials. I think we tried every color there was on earth in red because that was a big one. We conducted many tests digitally. We’ve been watching this for months. And the jaw had to be built out of a certain material because we wanted to use it, and it had to work on stage as well as on stage [water] Tank. It was really the first time we’ve worked on a film that used practically that much water. And we learned at work. Things happen. And the color wasn’t right and it came off in the tank. And we had this and that. If you see [Namor’s mother] Get in the water, you see Timbuktu Building next to her, that went into the tank. That was all built. And the scene where she gave birth was completely built. If you see the people in the village, it was all built under water. There was a lot of water in every single sentence.
Was there anything you personally saw that greatly influenced your Talokan design decisions?
For me it was the last three months of the film, going back and forth to Puerto Rico, and then we shot there for the last three weeks. Because of the world situation, we could not travel to Mexico at the time. And that’s what we really, really wanted. We spent a lot of time with our experts. And Professor Gerardo Aldana, an archaeologist specializing in Tulum, Mexico, would be in his Zoom class and lecture us with his class. Much of the Maya culture was destroyed and lost. And so there is a lot of critical fabulation in many of the myths of this culture. and dr Aldana was so important to translate hieroglyphs, to read hieroglyphs, to teach us hieroglyphs, to teach us about mathematics and about forestry. And so much about their gods, as much as the underworld, the middle world, and the upper realm, and how that affected their lives. It wasn’t just Maya experts and historians and archaeologists, we also spoke to oceanographers and marine biologists and specialists from different parts of the ocean.
In the first film you are immersed in Afrofuturism. And in this film, you were able to do something for a Latin American community that hasn’t generally been seen on the big screen. How was the reaction of the fans?
Oh it was lovely. I’ve had many Twitter conversations with some really fabulous people in the Latino community who are fans and some who are hobbyists of Mesoamerican culture and have done a lot of research and study of their own. And just the conversation about what the influences were and what influences people saw. I was blown away by how much people looked at things on some sets, and things that are there [on screen] very fast. And it’s like a bunch of people chirped me about the chocolate cups and chocolate holder in Namor’s memory room. And these things were made in Tulum because we had a lot of buyers and artists creating things for this world for us or for set decorator Lisa Sessions. You see Pakal influences, you see Tikal influences, you see all the things that we’ve spent so much time on to make sure we’re doing everything right, both in the traditional sense and when you’re looking at Talokan, the Kind of new cultural version of that.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2023-01-14/black-panther-wakanda-forever-production-design Wakanda Forever delves deep into Talokan culture