How Hannah Beachler Created an Underwater City for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever —Literally

The creation of the fictional land of Wakanda by production designer Hannah Beachler and her team is one of the biggest, most exciting feats in cinematic history. When the first Black Panther film came out in 2018, not only was it a cultural phenomenon—it was the first Marvel film with a Black director (Ryan Coogler) and mostly Black cast—it was a triumph of production design, with Beachler nabbing an Oscar for her work on the Afrofuturist country ruled by King T’challa (Chadwick Boseman).

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the highly anticipated sequel in theaters now, takes fans even deeper into Wakanda as Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Shuri (Letitia Wright) mourn the death of T’challa—a plot point born out of necessity after Boseman’s death in 2020. The film also introduces an entirely new world, which Beachler and her team conceptualized and built—underwater.

Scenes like King T’challa’s funeral allow viewers to see even more of the land of Wakanda this time around.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER

Scenes like King T’challa’s funeral allow viewers to see even more of the land of Wakanda this time around.
Photo: Marvel Studios

Yes, you read that right. Although visual effects studio Weta put the finishing touches on the subterranean civilization of Talokan, much of it was built inside giant tanks of water up to 20 feet deep and 80 feet in diameter. “That was a little bit of a shock,” Beachler tells AD of her initial reaction to the project. You may have seen actor Lupita Nyong’o’s recent TikTok video showing the underwater training routine she did to prepare for the film. Beachler and the rest of the crew also worked with free divers so they could get into the water and access the sets. Coogler probably did the most work—“He learned to swim for the movie,” reveals Beachler.

Giant water tanks were also used for scenes where Wakanda is flooded by the Talokanil.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER

Giant water tanks were also used for scenes where Wakanda is flooded by the Talokanil.
Photo: Marvel Studios

Like Wakanda before the arrival of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the first film, Talokan is isolated from the rest of the world and possesses the powerful (fictional) natural resource vibranium. The backstory of the Talokanil and their ruler, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), is revealed in the film, but the gist of it is that they are descendants of the ancient Mayans, and moved into the ocean to escape the Spanish conquistadors who invaded Mexico in the 1500s and by the late 1700s—when Beachler estimates that the Talokanil fled—were spreading smallpox.

The murals in Namor’s cenote—seen here behind Shuri (Letitia Wright)—were designed by Beachler and graphic designer Kelsey Brennan along with the film’s Mayan consultant, Dr. Gerardo Aldana. The murals were painted by Brandon Sadler.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER

The murals in Namor’s cenote—seen here behind Shuri (Letitia Wright)—were designed by Beachler and graphic designer Kelsey Brennan along with the film’s Mayan consultant, Dr. Gerardo Aldana. The murals were painted by Brandon Sadler.
Photo: Annette Brown. © 2022 MARVEL.
Alex Livinalli as Attuma and Mabel Cadena as Namora, both Talokanil people who need a special breathing apparatus when on land.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER

Alex Livinalli as Attuma and Mabel Cadena as Namora, both Talokanil people who need a special breathing apparatus when on land.
Photo: Marvel Studios

“I started the research in 900 BC in Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico,” says Beachler, whose other work includes Beyoncé’s visual albums Black Is King and Lemonade as well as films like Moonlight, Creed, and Fruitvale Station. She thought about how these people would have evolved after moving underwater (in the film, they drink a concoction made from a plant grown in vibranium-rich soil, which gives them the ability to breathe underwater), how their population would have expanded, and what materials they would have had to build with. Mesoamerican traditions like the “three sisters” (corn, beans, and squash), the “ceiba” (tree of life), and the Mayan calendar were all influences, but Beachler stresses that the Talokanil “are very much also their own culture” after hundreds of years underwater. “They’re not Mayans, they’re not trying to be Mayan, but they are certainly carrying on their tradition, carrying on the ritual, carrying on the community and the language of it. But they are not Maya anymore. They are Talokan,” she says.

Tenoch Huerta as Namor.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER

Tenoch Huerta as Namor.
Photo: Eli Adé / Marvel Studios

The architecture of Talokan is very circular, utilizing metal and stone and eschewing traditional rules of gravity. “It’s as if they built a center beam and then put a structure down on top of it and then another layer and then another layer. It has been over 300 years of adding on, adding on, and adding on,” says Beachler. “And as you add on to all of these structures, they become less chained to the idea of up and down and left and right.”

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

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