Wardrobe and hair played a vital part in making Marvel film Black Panther an unapologetic blast of African power and pride.
During their visit to promote the film over the weekend, Hollywood leading ladies Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira dished on the film’s incredible Afrocentric clothing and hair.
Acclaimed costume designer Ruth E. Carter renowned for her Oscar-nominated work in Spike Lee-directed Malcolm X and Steven Spielberg’s Amistad, was responsible for the sartorial picks of the fictional nation of Wakanda.
When it came to the hair department, hairstylist Camille Friend pulled out all the stops.
“Wardrobe and hair were really important. Ruth E. Carter and Camille Friend both did a ton of research on real African influences – African traditional expressions,” Nyong’o explained.
“All our costumes are drawn from actual African cultures. I just loved the specificity of it. It really is a celebration of the diversity in African culture. Costume and hair are ways in which you get closer to feeling and embodying your character.
“It was also collaborative. They would bring what they were thinking, we would share what we were thinking and we would arrive at a consensus.”
In order to build the River Tribe’s warrior goddess, with street smarts, Nakia (played by Nyong’o), the colour green was a central motif.
“My character Nakia, she is a member of the River Tribe. In Wakanda, the tribes are defined by the colours that they are wearing,” Nyong’o shared.
“Her colour is green and so you see Nakia wearing all different shades of green throughout the film. Her tribe is influenced by the Surma of Ethiopia. The hair as well, people were just astounded by how real it looked.”
As for her hairdo, Okoye rocks with pride a shaved head paired with an angular tattoo. In a pivotal scene in the film, Okoye expresses great disdain after she’s forced to wear a wig while undercover in Korea.
“I had no idea that this moment would resonate as it seems to have. I loved it, Ryan [Coogler; director] wrote it and it wasn’t an improvisation. I loved how subversive it was,” Gurira explained.
“It was once again giving a very alternative perspective on beauty aesthetics and the way she wasn’t happy with it [wig] on her head from the jump [because] she’s proud of her bald head and tattoo.
“This is her cultural aesthetic… This [is a] woman who has lived in a society where the joy and pride of who she is and what she looks like comes from her fore mothers. [She] takes pride in not putting anything extra on her head.”
Perhaps the most visually arresting scene in the film comes from the Wakanda Falls crowning ritual, offering a glimpse of Africa’s rainbow culture.
“The Wakanda Falls scene, the first one, we see the whole country and different tribes gathered. The celebrations they are in, the rituals of everything… It was really exciting to walk onto that set to see all these different folks all decked up,” Gurira said.
“It was a lot of specificity because it’s hundreds of people and no one was dressed generally. Everyone was dressed specific to their tribe, rank in the tribe and my army Dora Milaje had a very particular dress for that scene – All the stunning beadwork and the Maasai-esque rings around the neck.
“It filled me with so much life because I thought this is such a real African celebration and I’ve never seen it before.”