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All the Hidden Meanings Behind Black Panther's Costumes

It's peak Afrofuturism.
All the Hidden Meanings Behind Black Panther's Costumes
IMAGE INSTAGRAM/entertainmentweekly
It's peak Afrofuturism.

Black Panther hasn’t even opened in theaters yet, but it’s already creating a lot of buzz. (FYI, it’s also the first film to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine starring Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman.) 

Case in point: who would forget how the cast dressed to the nines on the red carpet for the movie premiere? They were clad in colorful and dazzling outfits that celebrated the African culture.

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That said, if your Valentine's Day plan includes a two-hour detour in the cinema to catch the newest Marvel movie, it's safe to say you won't regret it. Black Panther, after all, is not just a superhero movie but also a creative expression of the African culture, as seen in the movie's costume department. 

Along with its in-house team headed by Ryan Meinerding, Head of Visual Development, and Anthony Francisco, Senior Visual Development Illustrator, Marvel enlisted Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth Carter to dress and create over a thousand costumes for the Wakanda tribes, royals, warriors, and citizens. Ruth, who’s marking her 30th year in the industry, drew inspiration from African tribes and pop culture to keep the film’s overall aesthetic authentic and modern, fit for the hidden but highly advanced (and never colonized) Wakanda. 

"What I looked at for Wakanda was the ancient African tribes. We sectioned each part of Wakanda by what tribe inspired that particular area's look,” Ruth explains in an interview. “Then, in pop culture right now, there is a movement called Afropunk. And Afropunk really celebrates dark skin, creative expression. Even MAC right now is doing yellow lipstick and green lipstick and doing these bold colors that are non-conventional. So Afropunk was a source of inspiration as well."

The much anticipated Marvel movie wielded the power of costumes, hair, and makeup to weave and tell the stories of T’challa and Wakanda. Ruth took inspiration from the pre-colonial and untouched culture of Africa to fully encapsulate the tribes in the movie. To do this, she threw herself into heavy research on the original artifacts, jewelry, and beadwork from different ethnic groups in Africa. From this foundation, she then injected avantgarde and Afropunk qualities.

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Furthermore, Fashionista reports that the team “created specific color palettes for each of the Wakandan tribes, like plums and purples for the merchants, referencing the Sub-Saharan Tuareg; green for the river tribe, based on the Suri in Southwestern Ethiopia; and ochre for the mining tribe, inspired by the Himba in Northern Namibia. One of the most breathtaking moments in the movie is filled with saturated colors, beautiful prints, and African-inspired finery and weaponry, as all five Wakandan tribes gather to celebrate T'Challa's coronation at Warrior Falls.”

Below, we put together a spoiler-free breakdown of all African culture references the Black Panther film used in the film:

T'Challa (a.k.a. The Black Panther / The King)

T'Challa gets a Black Panther 2.0 suit, a better and more advanced ebony feline suit compared to his first appearance from Captain America: Civil War. The new suit features nanotechnology and is, of course, powered by vibranium, which also powers the whole Wakanda. The suit has a sleeker silhouette with illuminating ultraviolet (on trend, naturally) patterns to reveal Wakandan script.

Ruth notes that "the triangle, throughout the continent of Africa, is the sacred geometry. I called it the Okavango pattern and put it all over the suit so that he'd not only be this superhero. He'd be an African king."

Dora Milaje army

The kickass all-female army called Dora Milaje is tasked to protect the royal family. For their costume, the team headed by Anthony (who happens to be a Filipino) "first looked to the comics and then cultural influences from warriors around the world for a modular design that's 80 percent Masai [from southern Kenya and northern Tanzania], five percent samurai, five percent ninja, and five percent Ifugao tribe, from the Philippines, speaking to his heritage," Fashionista writes.

Furthermore, in a video produced by Racked, Ruth reveals that since the members of the army are mostly wearing red, they turned to the Turkana and Himba tribes for inspiration who are Sub-Saharans who put a mixture of oxidized clay, soil, and shea butter all over their skin. Meanwhile, for the beadwork, they looked at Maasai and the South African Ndebele tribe for their distinct neck rings.

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Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong'o is seen to have a shoulder silver armor on top of her military uniform while Okoye (Danai Gurira), the military leader gets gold armor. They are also seen to have facial and head tattoos that indicate their stature, inspired by the Suri tribe. Simply put, the more tattoos, the higher the rank.

Nakia, T'Challa, and Okoye Undercover

In a brief moment, the trio transforms into black-tie looks for a brief mission in a casino. However, Fashionista shares that their clothes were not randomly chosen. Their looks reference their Wakandan roots. For example, "Nakia's iridescent chartreuse and navy gown is supplemental-printed and hand-painted in an ombré with a Kente cloth pattern."

Queen Ramonda

Ruth reveals that Queen Ramonda's (Queen Angela Bassett) costume fuses together tradition and technology. She shares with Racked, "I took the South African Zulu married woman's hat and we had it 3D-printed."

Shuri

Lastly, we have Shuri (Letitia Wright), T'Challa's little sister who represents the new Wakanda. Ruth outfitted her based on Shuri's incomparable intellegence. Her clothes were made of ultra-advanced hi-tech materials. For inspiration, Ruth "looked to Stella McCartney's use of recycled materials to also incorporate a forward-thinking sustainability factor and created a theme of structured neoprene, mesh materials, and lab-friendly whites," Fashionista reports.

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