Adorning ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’
In “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” jewelry plays a crucial role, and it’s not just those all-powerful Kimoyo beads.
Jewelry ties the sequel, released earlier this month, to the first “Black Panther” film. “We see King T’Challa’s ring that Shuri wears around her neck,” Ruth E. Carter, the film’s costume and jewelry designer, said in a video interview, referring to T’Challa’s sister, played by Letitia Wright. “She wears it during the funeral procession. It’s a symbolic passing of the torch.”
(Marvel decided not to recast T’Challa after Chadwick Boseman, who played him in the first film, died of colon cancer in 2020.)
And adorning the sequel’s cast gave Ms. Carter and her team the opportunity to expand the African motifs they had mined for Wakanda, the fictional country cinematically shown in the 2018 “Black Panther” film — and to be inspired by Mayan culture in styling the Talocan tribe. It is an underwater civilization that attacks Wakanda, the main story line of the second movie.
“The Wakandans connect to traditional African tribes, and the Talocans connect to Mesoamerica and the ocean,” Ms. Carter said. “With the Mayan influence, we connected the aboveground world with what they would have used from the ocean.” She said the designs for the Talocans include materials like bone, jade, rope and kelp.
Perhaps the most prominent jewelry-clad character in the new “Black Panther” story is Namor, the leader of the Talocans, played by the Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta.
“Namor is adorned with a large necklace that has a two-headed serpent with a large pearl in the mouth and a double strand of pearls,” Ms. Carter said. “That has a lot of meaning. A serpent was often used in Mesoamerican stonework and pottery.”
Other new characters who are richly adorned include the Talocan warrior Attuma, who wears a headpiece depicting a hammerhead shark, while Namor’s female cousin Namora has a neckpiece made in the shape of lionfish fins.
Ms. Carter, the first Black designer to win an Oscar for best costume design for her work on “Black Panther,” also focused on varying the jewelry among the recurring characters.
“Queen Ramonda wears two different corsets, one of which is inspired by the Dogon tribe of Mali and goes from the base of the neck to the bust,” Ms. Carter said, referring to Angela Bassett’s character, who leads Wakanda after the death of her son T’Challa.
“The second is made to look like as if it is her armor,” she said. “It’s very strong and heavy imagery, but appropriate for the queen and her ruling of Wakanda.”
M’Baku, the leader of the Jabari tribe in Wakanda, played by Winston Duke, has a necklace made of tiny spears. And an elder of the River Tribe reprises the turquoise-colored lip plate that he wore in the first movie.
Two artists who do a lot of handicraft assisted Ms. Carter with the jewelry for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”: Douriean Fletcher, a Los Angeles-based jewelry designer, also worked on the first “Black Panther” movie and Baba Gi, a jewelry maker in Atlanta.
Starting with initial preparations for the first film, the designers built out the imaginary world that the comic book creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced in 1966.
“What Wakanda represents is a fictitious place that is reimagined where there was no colonization, and we imagine how they would have progressed with technology and Vibranium using their advancements in technology,” Ms. Carter said, referring to the fictional ore that powers and enriches the Wakandans, especially through the Kimoyo beads given to each Wakandan at birth. “And I like to think that we accent our costumes with adornments that connect us to history.”
Marion Fasel, founder and editorial director of The Adventurine, an online jewelry magazine, said by phone, “There are certain cultures in the world where jewelry is not an accessory but an integral part of culture and life, and to me that’s what ‘Black Panther’ does with Wakanda.
“It establishes a jewelry culture,” she added. “Every single character in the movie is wearing something that is symbolic, and that’s what jewelry was historically. In African and Indian and many cultures to this day, jewelry means something.”