Black Panther’s Hannah Beachler becomes the first African-American woman to win the Academy Award for Achievement in Production Design

Lucas Herman, Staff Writer

Hannah Beachler is a highly respected production designer in the entertainment industry and has worked on many mainstream films such as “Creed,” “Moonlight,” and “Black Panther.” In addition to film design, she has also worked with musicians, most notably when she did the visuals for Beyoncé’s album “Lemonade.”

On February 10th, Hannah Beachler made headlines with her unprecedented Academy Award win for “Best Production Design” on the film “Black Panther.”  Hannah Beachler broke through the long-standing racial barrier by becoming the first African-American woman to be nominated and to win an Oscar in her category. Ms. Beachler understands the importance of her Oscar nomination and win sharing with The New York Times that, “You never think a girl from Ohio, in the middle of nowhere, can get here.” She went on to say, “It’s a mission to let other girls and women of color know that they can do the same.”

Ms. Beachler was the first woman ever to oversee production design for a Marvel film. She expressed surprise that she was given the opportunity, and the $30 million-dollar budget, to create a completely new world that has never been put on the big screen before. The world of Wakanda, and multiple other places the movie explores such as South Korea and California, were in Hannah Beachler’s hands, and she portrayed them with painstaking perfection. “It felt like there were no limits except what our imaginations could come up with. And to imagine something like Wakanda in your head and then watch it come to life was incredible,” Hannah Beachler told Filmmaker Magazine.

  Director Ryan Coogler knew that Ms. Beachler was up for the challenge after working with her on his earlier films “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed.” As Coogler told Variety magazine, “She came to the initial meeting and blew everybody away. She was so detailed in her research, bringing in photos and other images. She wanted to make Wakanda [the film’s fictional location in Africa] a living, breathing place. She has a great eye.”

Before getting the job, Hannah Beachler wasn’t very familiar with the Marvel superhero universe but she got help from an unexpected source–her teenage son.“I’d never been into comic books, but I loved the Marvel movies and I’d watched them with my son, who is a huge comic book person,” Hannah Beachler told Filmmaker Magazine. “He had this big Marvel dictionary that he gave me. He walked me through all the different canons and how Black Panther started out with the Fantastic Four, and he told me certain comics to look at.

The comics were an important source of inspiration for Beachler, as was a long research trip to South Africa that inspired Beachler to create many of many of the locations in Wakanda. Oribi Gorge, located in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and its cliffside rock formations influenced the look of Warrior Falls, where King T’Challa fought any challenger to the throne. Similarly, Snowy Sentinel Peak in Australia, inspired Beachler to create M’Baku’s mountaintop throne room. Beachler used all these insights to create the Wakanda “Bible” that informed every facet of the movie, from the sets to the costumes to the story itself.  As Ms. Beachler shared with Fast Company Magazine, “We were representing Pan-Africa. All the cultures came together to create a Wakanda aesthetic. I always do research, but the Wakanda [set design] “Bible” that we used took me months to put together. I think the final version was 515 pages, covering the 187 sets on the film. Every time someone asks me about a particular item, I can recite the thought behind it.”

On stage, after she was presented with her Academy Award, Beachler made an emotional speech that captured the attention of the audience and the media. Her speech had many powerful messages for aspiring people across many industries working towards achieving their dreams. She said, “I give the strength to all of those who come next to keep going, to never give up, and when you think it is impossible, just remember this piece of advice I got from a very wise woman – “I did my best, and my best is good enough.” This inspiring message adds to the power of Hannah Beachler’s triumph and provides inspiration for future generations to reach their dreams no matter the field.

Becoming the first African-American woman to win this award is even more extraordinary because of how long this award has been given out. In the 91 years of Academy Award ceremonies, Beachler was the 102nd winner for Production Design. In other words, 101 people won this award before an African-American woman was even nominated, let alone won.

Beachler takes a lot of pride in her work, and it shows in the final product, as she won the Academy Award for Best Production Design and continues to be highly sought after to work on many other big movies. Beachler will most likely reprise her position as production designer on the highly anticipated sequel to “Black Panther.” Movie lovers around the world can not wait to see and experience the places that Hannah Beachler will create next.