*no spoilers ahead*
Whether or not you buy into the hype of the Marvel movies, the creation of a superhero movie with a predominantly black cast and director is kind of a BIG deal. Walking away from the movie, one of the most striking aspects of the film for me was the fashion.
Black characters are rarely the protagonists of the imaginary worlds of superhero movies, often being depicted as the sidekick. Black Panther doesn’t only present a world of dynamic, complex characters but opens up the narrative about the African continent. Often times, the world sees one skewed image, and it’s one of poverty and underdevelopment. Despite the fictional nature of Wakanda, it showcases the development and potential of African countries.
Source (Ruth E. Carter)
Ruth Carter was the first African American designer to win an Academy Award for Best Costume design. She has spent 30 years as a professional film costume designer, working in some iconic films including Selma, Amistad and Malcolm X, and was a great choice for Black Panther.
Black Panther has had a real social impact with people dressing up in their finest African inspired outfits to go watch it. The costumes were a compilation of a lot of different African cultures, and during the movie I found myself almost playing a game of “spot the country this originated from” in the garments.
While the incorporation of so many different African fashions from numerous countries and tribes has been questioned, the movie worked to paint a picture of an expressive and fictional African country. There is a pageantry and pride that Africans take in their fashion that was effectively portrayed in the film, and I can really appreciate the beauty of African countries and their style being represented with respect and intentionality.
Carter researched extensively into African fashion with a team of over 30 designers and buyers, and sourced costumes from all over the world including Africa, India and South Korea. There are very minute details in the costumes like Mursi lip plates from Ethiopia, and Basotho blankets from Lesotho, that offer a new appreciation to the movie once their significances are understood.
These are some of my favorite looks from Black Panther, enjoy!
Isaach de Bankolé’s character (leader of the River Tribe) didn’t have much screen time, but had one of the most distinctive looks in Black Panther. This dapper suit was created by a Ghanaian designer Ozwald Baoteng. “The lip plate is mainly used by African women, although men do adorn it, and the bigger the lip plate, the more prominence that you have in the tribe,” said Carter. “Usually we see this lip plate in National Geographic on women with no tops who are sitting on the ground, and here he is with his legs crossed and a beautiful suit by the fashion designer Ozwald Boateng. He is bringing so much pride and so much honor to it.”
Never have I seen a dress so beautifully tailored and well-suited for combat as the one that Lupita is wearing in this scene. Nakia is also in the River Tribe, and this dress was based on kente cloth patterns, but the textile was created from scratch in one suitable for her fighting scenes. It was partly 3D printed, and then hand painted to create the ombre effect.
Shuri’s character (pictured on the right) is behind a lot of the technological advancements in Wakanda, and is far from your stereotypical tech engineer. In her first scene in the movie, Carter presents the character, in an edgy version of white lab coat, and the rest of her looks mirror her rebellious, innovative spirit.
T’Challa (pictures on the left) wears a West African style kaftan, and wear a number of these in the film. Most of his outfits are very tailored and the draping silhouettes frame him well, giving him a royal stride fit for a king.
Source (Masaai Tribe)
The Doro Milaje are a kick-ass female fighting squad inspired by the real Maasai tribe of Kenya. Unlike in the comics were they were oversexualized, they are fully clothed in the film but their costumes still manage to highlight the female form while still being practical. Their beautifully armored jewelry were crafted by Douriean Fletcher.
Source (Lesotho People from South Africa)
The border tribe function as the police force of Wakanda and wear these amazingly graphic blankets inspired by the Lesotho people of South Africa.
Ramonda is the Queen of Wakanda and adorns a distinct Zulu headdress, “Isicholos”, traditionally worn by married women for ceremonial celebrations. Her crown and shoulder piece were designed by Gareth Pugh and were both 3D printed, it’s a very Victorian looking piece but the African lace patterns keep it very Wakanda.
Connie Chiume played the Mining Tribe Elder, and played a part in important royal affairs. This tribe was based on the Himba People, who wear otijze paste on their skin and in their hair.
Zuri is the Wakanda shaman and his costume is modeled after the agbada found among Yoruba people of Nigeria. The agbada has 3 layers; the awosoke, his was made of silk tubes that gave it a free flowing drape, awotele (like an undercoat) and sokoto (long trousers).
To think that all of these were in a Marvel movie is incredible, and I really do hope that Black Panther is just the beginning in an upward trajectory of diversity of representation in Hollywood.