Cinema Femme Voices: 'Black Panther'

Illustration by Laurine Cornuéjols

Earlier this year, we chose “Black Panther” to be our film focus for our January issue (read my editor’s letter here). I chose the film because of its global impact on film and representation. I had no idea that nine months later I’d be speaking with the woman who created Wakanda, Hannah Beachler. Read her feature here, and excerpt below.

This feature is a compilation of our personal essays and interviews around and about the film “Black Panther”. I started Cinema Femme in November 2018 with the goal of elevating the female film experience. This feature is the accumulation of that for celebrating this inspirational and innovative film.

“Third world as we do not know it: why we need more Black Panthers that defy white patriarchy” — a personal essay by Jaylan Salah

Okoye played by Danai Gurira in “Black Panther”

When I first started my international film criticism career, I never thought anyone would be interested in what a twenty-something Egyptian feminist woman had to say. I was not Western, I had not studied the art of filmmaking at a prestigious international film academy, and I most certainly did not belong to any film “cliques.” My feelings bordered on isolation, insufficiency, and envying white privilege. A male colleague once told me—rather bitterly—that had I been born in a European country or an American state, my life would have taken a completely different toll.

“Just compare your position to a Western woman your age with a similar set of skills,” he said.

From that moment, I grew to hate white privilege and believe there was no way out of that enormous capsule of being a non-Western, nonwhite female. Fighting for my rights sounded a bit cliché and spoiled when I had to fight for a regular desk job and put food on the table amid patriarchal societal restrictions.

That’s why cinema needs to bring more films like “Black Panther” (2018) into the spotlight.

Third world as we do not know it: why we need more Black Panthers that defy white patriarchy — a personal essay by Jaylan Salah

“The Women of Wakanda” — a personal essay by Marjorie H. Morgan

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER L to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) Credit: Matt Kennedy/©Marvel Studios 2018

From a Black female perspective, “Black Panther” is the cinematic equivalent of Michelle Obama’s 2018 book “Becoming”; it is a testament to the reality and life of a people who are often ignored. Both pieces of media focus specifically on the individuality of the Black female body, and the movie, like the Obama book, is a celebration of a circle of strong women who always lift each other up.

The Women of Wakanda — a personal essay by Marjorie H. Morgan

“Body, Heart, Soul” — a personal essay by Amy Wasney

Shuri in “Black Panther” played by  Letitia Wright

Throughout the entire movie, we see Shuri save T’Challa’s life again and again. While he is in South Korea, she is driving the car for him, constantly communicating with him, reminding him of the kinetic energy in his suit. After the ritual combat battle with Killmonger, Shuri is the one who rescues T’Challa’s Black Panther necklace. Even when she believes him to be dead, she is still managing to rescue him. In the final battle with Killmonger, at T’Challa’s request she turns on the train, allowing the lights to deactivate the Black Panther suits, which is what eventually leads to T’Challa’s success in the fight. Shuri is T’Challa’s biggest cheerleader, his strongest critic, his best friend, and the one he would be truly lost without.

Body, Heart, Soul — a personal essay by Amy Wasney

Carla Renata, film critic, on “Black Panther”

Carla Renata, film critic

Excerpt from January 2019 feature

RENATA: There has been numerous Marvel Comic Books films. But this was the first time, in fifty years, Marvel decided to give “Black Panther” some love. What happened when they did? It was like watching a superhero revolution happening. One of the “Good Morning America” segments that aired during the film’s premiere week had an audience full of little kids. Black, white, and otherwise with “Black Panther” costumes on. One of the costumes that struck me the most was a little girl with a “Black Panther” costume on. When the hosts interviewed and asked her, “Why are you so excited about ‘Black Panther’?” she simply responded, “I finally saw somebody that looks like me.”

Carla Renata interviewing Julia Roberts

MARTIN: Wow, that makes me happy.

It’s important children see themselves represented, across all different lanes of life. It is only then they know it’s possible. If I had seen one black astronaut when I was a kid, I probably would have been an astronaut. Representation is important and how it’s presented is just as important.

RENATA: It’s important children see themselves represented, across all different lanes of life. It is only then they know it’s possible. If I had seen one black astronaut when I was a kid, I probably would have been an astronaut. Representation is important and how it’s presented is just as important.

Hannah Beachler, “Black Panther” Production Designer and Oscar winner on Wakanda

Hannah Beachler

Excerpt from October 2019 feature

MARTIN: I’m so glad that film won Best Picture. With “Black Panther” (2018), could you talk about your process in creating Wakanda?

BEACHLER: When I first started building Wakanda, Ryan and I would sit and have our conversations, about what the different streets were, what the people did and do in the city, etc.

Wakanda, “Black Panther” (2018)

Then I started building the research. He said one thing to me, he was like, “Put yourself into it.” You look at the city a little bit differently when you start thinking, okay, I’m going to put myself into it. It was really hard at first. The first thing I did was the records hall. I was writing the history of Golden City and started studying the history of different cities around the world. Then I started applying the ideas of these histories to Wakanda, or to the Golden City specifically.

One night I was sitting there and got off the phone with my mom. I was adopted, and we were talking about it. She said, “Are you ever going to look for your biological parents?’” I had tried a couple times by looking through the records and through the courts. Thinking about that, and Ryan describing how he really wanted the palace to sit for filming, I wanted to have the stories I was telling as far as the history. I needed to have a gate; the history of the gate was that it was there ten thousand years ago before Wakanda, and once the city became filled with everybody, the gate came down.

Hannah Beachler with her Oscar win 2019

So the gate has to be held up, and there are these two buildings. They were once this, and now what did they become? I was thinking about my own story. And I was thinking, wouldn’t it be great if everyone in Wakanda would never have to try to find out who they are. It’s a lot about the African American story as well. Because I am not an African. My sensibilities are coming from my experience in this country, which is that I don’t know anything about myself. Even if I knew who my parents were, my history, it stops at a certain point. We do DNA testing, but we don’t really know what that is. I thought, this is where all the records for every Wakandan will be, and where they live. And at any point in time you can understand your entire history. You’ll never have to struggle in the pain of not knowing who you are. That was really important to me, to put those there. Because in a sense it was me healing the five- or six-year-old girl who was always wondering. Maybe one day she can go to this records hall, find out about her past, and her ancestors.

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