From her friend’s music videos to the world of Wakanda, Hannah Beachler has left her creative mark on the production design world. But make no mistake, she was not an overnight success. We’re breaking down her rise to fame so you can be inspired!
Her Early Career
Before she brought the world of Wakanda to the big screen, Beachler started her career as a fashion design major at the University of Cincinnati. When she graduated she started helping her friends make music videos. She decided to go back to school to study film at Wright Unversity with her eye on the director’s chair. But when a friend asked for help on the set of a Lifetime movie, she fell in love with production design. "I did the production design for this really tiny horrible show and I was like yeah, I want to do this forever,” she said in a 2016 Refinery29 interview.
Since then she worked on horror films and low budget movies taking care of everything involving set production. Beachler finally caught her big break doing the production design for Ryan Cogler’s Fruitvale Station in 2013. It was that movie where Hollywood took notice of her work. After that, she worked on Creed in 2015, eight of Beyonce’s Lemonade Videos in 2016, and Moonlight in 2017. Then in 2018, the world took notice of her artistry in Marvel’s Black Panther.
Beachler Makes Oscar History with Black Panther
As Marvel Studio’s first female production designer, Beachler and her crew of several hundred designers brought the world of Wakanda to life. For inspiration, she and the director Ryan Coogler traveled to South Africa. But she didn’t go there just to find cool things to put in the movie. She wanted to give her own interpretation of what a technically advanced African land would look like. The super cool skyscrapers surrounded by natural lands and mountains we saw in the Marvel movie were inspired by what she saw in Africa. In an interview with VICE, she talked about seeing Turkana women wearing traditional face paint while working on a modern construction site. This was the side of Africa we don’t see in film and Beachler made sure to represent it in all of its glory in Black Panther.
And Hollywood loved it. She became the first black woman to win an Oscar for best production design.
Her Advice for Up and Coming Production Designers
Even before making headlines as the first African American to win an Oscar for Production Design, Beachler realized the need for more people of color in her field. In that same interview with Refinery29, she said, “A couple of years ago, the thought hit me, like, I can’t be the only female of color working at this level. That can’t possibly be right! But talking to friends of mine and just being on sets, I haven't seen women like me in this kind of position." She went on to say that this was due in part to people in our community not being aware of this creative career path.
With 15 years of experience under her belt, she offers some awesome advice to up and coming designers in an interview with OkayPlayer. “Learn everything in your department. Learn everything in the art department, the props department. Talk to carpenters, painters, sculptors. Talk to everybody. Learn what the job is because that is part of being good at what you do. Listen and observe people 24/7, all day, every day. That’s part of your job is understanding the character, understanding the psychology, and knowing who people are.”