Black Panther's Design Is Off-the-Charts Cool

See how the design and artistic movement of Afrofuturism plays out in the new Marvel Studios utopian action film.

Photo By: Marvel Studios

Photo By: Marvel Studios

Photo By: Marvel Studios

Photo By: Marvel Studios

Photo By: Marvel Studios

Photo By: Marvel Studios

Photo By: Marvel Studios

Photo By: Marvel Studios

Photo By: Marvel Studios

The Future Is Now in Black Panther

There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the new Black Panther movie. Black superheroes! Gorgeous CGI scenery! A-list actors showing off their Yale-thespian chops and gym time. And of course, a powerful message about a black utopia as a longed-for panacea to inner-city malaise. Read on to find out how the design and art movement of Afrofuturism informs a film that is projected to break box office records when it opens on February 15.

Design As Philosophy

The long-awaited film directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed), the first Marvel film directed by an African-American and starring a predominately black cast, is also an entertaining and culturally powerful treatise on the design, artistic and philosophical movement of Afrofuturism, a term coined by cultural critic Mark Dery in 1993. Afrofuturism is defined as a sci-fi vision of the world that places black achievement and power at the fore. Its aesthetic combines black history, sci fi and magical realism into one compelling blend. Musicians Sun Ra and Janelle Monae and novelist Octavia Butler are creatives who have also worked with Afrofuturist themes.

African Influence

Starring Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong'o, Black Panther centers on a black superhero T'Challa/The Black Panther (Boseman) the king and hero of the fictional African country of Wakanda. The comic that inspired the film was first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966.

Future Shock

Black Panther's production designer Hannah Beachler also worked on Moonlight and Beyoncé’s "Lemonade" video. Some have also called Beachler's "Lemonade" video Afrofuturist for the way it incorporates references to African Yoruba goddesses into the plot.

An Afrofuturist World

Black Panther is set in the fictional African country of Wakanda. The country epitomizes the Afrofuturist vibe. It’s a utopia and African superpower, hidden below the radar of the rest of the world. The key to its wealth is the fact that the country was never colonized and its prized natural resource vibranium.

Girl Power

T'Challa's personal army of brave warriors who defend him against all attacks are called the Dora Milaje and blend a futuristic vision of virtually unstoppable, powerful female warriors with costume elements inspired by African design. Costume designer Ruth Carter based the beadwork on their beaded body armor on designs from the East African Maasai tribe.

Sci Fi Meets the Ancient

T'Challa's sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is the Steve Jobs of Black Panther, a talented inventor in the tradition of the James Bond character Q. Here the tech genius is a teenage girl who creates rocket gloves and defensive body armor in a typical Afrofuturist brand of off-the-charts female empowerment and intelligence. In this scene Shuri battles T'Challa's nemesis Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in an outfit that blends cutting-edge technology and the kind of face decoration and dress that evoke indigenous African design.

Design Source

Costume designer Ruth Carter told Wired magazine that there is a subtle pyramid motif in T'Challa's bodysuit design that was inspired by a pyramid pattern from Mali. Boseman and Lupita Nyong'o as T'Challa's love interest Nakia star in the highly anticipated Marvel Studios action film Black Panther.

Africa Meets the Future

Black Panther costume designer Ruth E. Carter has admitted her costumes, which blend ancient, tribal and historical African elements with sci-fi flourishes, are decidedly Afrofuturist in intent. Actor Forest Whitaker (shown here) stars in Black Panther as the Wakanda elder statesman Zuri.

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