Our annual road trip to Los Angeles to cover the award season included red-carpet fun for the newspaper’s newest vertical—AmNews curtain raiser with a heavy support of social media via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
We’ve been covering the Oscars since 2015 and it was just as exciting this year as it was the first year.
Dressed in a fiery Chinese-red full-length gown, styled with Afro-centric accents, Hannah Beachler, who became the first African-American to be nominated for—and now win—an Oscar in production design for her work on Marvel’s “Black Panther” delivered an emotional speech on the stage and again, shared her gratitude for director Ryan Coogler, backstage in the press room. She shares the Oscar with set decorator Jay Hart, who received his first Oscar after two previous nominations, for “Pleasantville” and “L.A. Confidential.” On stage, an emotional Beachler made it clear that she owes it all to the “Black Panther” director saying, “I stand here stronger than I was yesterday. I stand here with agency and self-worth because of Ryan Coogler. You not only made me a better designer, a better storyteller, a better person, I stand here because of this man who offered me a different perspective of life, who offered me a safe space, who’s patient and gave me air, humanity and brotherhood.”
Beachler’s collaboration with “Black Panther” helmer Ryan Coogler goes back to his first feature, 2013’s “Fruitvale Station.”
Here is an edited excerpt from the Oscar winner Hannah Beachler from inside the pressroom:
Amsterdam News: What was it like for you to get involved with a project like “Black Panther” and create the world of Wakanda?
Hannah Beachler: Well, I was going to get involved with the project because of Ryan Coogler. I’ve worked with him on two previous films, so there was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to do the film, because I know what Ryan would bring to it and what it would become, not just a super hero film but a film for the ages. So, you know, it was about me getting the project, about Marvel, you know, sort of being convinced that I could do this project more than about me wanting to do the project, because I wanted to work with Ryan.
AN: Let’s talk about especially winning Oscars in tandem with your inspirations both in terms of African history and, of course, comic book history.
HB: You know, collaborating with Rachel Morrison, Ruth Carter, Jay Hart, my set decorator, I mean, that’s just how you make films: you collaborate. It’s a collaborative medium in the way that we do it, because we’re all visual, and we all—you know—bring that to the table. Part two of your question I don’t remember at all because I’m just totally freaking out right now, right? I’m like holding this and I’m like trying to be super serious about, like, you know, when we did the you know, honestly, I’m like this is so yellow. So you’ll have to excuse me, because I am literally losing my mind. But I will say a lot of the inspiration that came from the continent came about from really where we located Wakanda on the continent; because if people were going to migrate, they were going to migrate around that area. So we took a very anthropological look at how the country was placed on the continent; and then from there, you know, you’ve got your Omo Valley tribes that are sort of southeast—yeah—southeast in Ethiopia. So, you know, it’s like they migrated down to Wakanda. That became our river tribe. So that’s sort of how we begun—that’s sort of how we began to sort of, all right, naturally these people would have migrated to this area for these reasons, and so these are our inspirations as far as, like, you know, we wanted to be as real as we could. And then I just don’t remember anything else you asked, because I’m totally in another world right now. Sorry. Did that sound—was that rude? I’m just kidding.
AN: What was it like working on the film?
HB: It’s like eating an elephant one spoonful at a time, because “Panther” was just ginormous, and there was a lot to do, and a lot of research, and 500 page bibles, and previously before that a 400 page bible. You know, we just—it was nonstop. So you lean on the people that you love and that are family, and I would consider, you know, Ryan and everyone on “Panther” part of my family.
AN: What would you say to other Black creators for the future of production design?
HB: Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do this craft. You are worthy, and you are beautiful, and this is something for you. That’s what I would tell them. I’ve been given so much advice over the years, and every bit of it has changed everything. I think the advice that changed everything for me the most was when I arrived in Oakland all those years ago with Ryan on the first day, and he said—You know what? Just be honest, and be truthful and be you; because if you don’t, if you’re not yourself, then, you know, this is never going to work. And that’s the best advice I got.
AN: What was it like when you stepped on the set for the first time?
HB: The finished sets? I mean, the first—the first set that I walked onto that was completed was the casino, and I was driving into work, and I knew that they were finishing up the night before. And the stage door happened to be opened, and I thought, let me pull over and walk in. Nobody was there, and the lights were on; and I walked in, and I walked to the middle of that set, and I just fell to my knees and cried because I never thought I would be there. I never thought that I would ever have that opportunity to do something on that scale. I never thought that—I never saw anyone like me have an opportunity to do something like that on that scale. I attributed that to Ryan Coogler and Marvel films; but it felt like it does now.