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‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Hair and Makeup Designers Detail the Artistry Above and Below the Ocean



The Talokanil

CAMILLE FRIEND Establishing the Talokanil, which is a whole new underwater Mayan society, [we wanted] to represent that really well. We wanted to be culturally appropriate. We worked with Dr. Gerardo Aldana [Creative Studies dean and professor of Chicano Studies at the department of anthropology at UC Santa Barbara]. He gave us so many little jewels about what [Mayan culture] is and what it isn’t — a woman who was single, for example, her hair would look [one way] versus a woman who was married, or an older woman. You can’t just go on Google — it’s something that’s been buried, and it’s buried in the ground.

JOEL HARLOW Say you [use] Google — the stuff that you will find might not be culturally accurate. It was very helpful to have Dr. Aldana as our guide through what are “movie,” or inaccurate, depictions of the Mayan culture. If you can’t trace back any of the glyphs that I sculpted on these pieces, on the rebreathers, back to something that’s actually culturally accurate, then you’ve got to throw them out.

FRIEND I called Ryan [Coogler’s] office “The War Room.” He likes to get all of us in there, and he’d be like, “Get Dr. Aldana on the phone. Put him on speaker!” We really had him there to help us in all departments. [And] everybody who worked as the Talokanil are of Latin descent. Some of the children were flown in from Miami, some of the cutest kids. Everything was done properly.

Underwater Scenes

Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor in Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

FRIEND I have a whole new respect for water, because there is a living, breathing element. Some of our initial camera tests said it all. We put people in the water, and the hair wasn’t looking so good. But this is why you want camera tests, because then we figured out: You couldn’t use gel, you couldn’t use hair spray, because when they got into water, it was just a big cloud of white. So, adjusting our program, figuring out resources that are going to work underwater, products that are going to work… One thing that we did, which is kind of crazy, was like a glue hairspray. We took a glue and thinned it out with alcohol, as thin as possible, to create a spray. The hair needed to be secured with three rubber bands to hold it up. All those little things, just so the hair looked great underwater.

HARLOW Water is unforgiving. It erodes mountains. And having worked on all five of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, I know the problems that water is going to pose. Everything’s going to take longer; everything is going to be twice as hard to keep attached, if you’re dealing with prosthetics. And now you’ve got people who are entirely painted blue, fighting underwater. So, you’ve got abrasion — and abrasion and water, that’s how you get most things off. The first time I did a full Talokanil makeup — you know, blue — I brought it in, showed it to Ryan. He was like, “Yep, that’s it, we’ll go with that.” I spritzed [the actor], and it started bleeding blue. He was still covered in that same color blue. But these little rivulets of a dark blue sweat were coming. I was like, “Well, I have to find something else. And it better look like this, because [Coogler] already approved it.” So we did. But ultimately, you’ve got wardrobe rubbing against it, you’ve got fight sequences. You’re going to have spots of flesh tone showing up. You go in, you touch them up, and it’s a lot of maintenance. Half the job is in the trailer in the morning. The other half is on set.

Iridescent Tattoos


Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

HARLOW We did some tattooing on the Wakandan navy that’s iridescent, to signify rank. Some of them are gold. Some of them are silver, but it’s all reflective tattoos.

FRIEND I’m telling you, I’ve never seen that before in a movie. That was so original. I just want to say this about Joel, my partner in crime: It’s not often that you can work with somebody who can do anything that you imagine. He can do any skin tone, any skin texture, and just all the beautiful things that he’s done in these two movies are incredible. It’s a testimony to him as an artist.

HARLOW I’ll echo that sentiment, because the styles that I saw coming out of the trailer [were] incredible. The Mayan hairstyles I absolutely loved, and that informed a lot of what we did with the makeup, because starting from the top down, it’s all got to be cohesive.


The Talokanil in Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

The Talokanil in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

HARLOW We have such a great working relationship with Geoffrey Baumann, our visual effects director and supervisor — we end where he begins. It’s just a really great seamless kind of working relationship. There are things [like Namora’s feathers] that you couldn’t shoot underwater; they had to be comped in. You could easily go to [Baumann] and say, “Look, there’s an issue here, 30 feet in the air. I can’t get to it. Just make sure you deal with that.”

FRIEND On the hair side, we’re very much responsible [for] getting [the large headpieces] on and stabilizing them, because they have to fight in these. Our entire Latin cast — Tenoch [Huerta Mejía]Mabel [Cadena] and Alex [Livinalli], just tremendous actors, so patient, so kind — really held it in there and practiced with those headpieces. If you’re fighting, you have to stay balanced, and you have weight on your head.

HARLOW I think that Namora’s look is probably my favorite. Mabel Cadena played Namora, and her beauty was done by [makeup artist] AJ Crimson, who we sadly lost before the film came out.

FRIEND A great friend.

This story first appeared in a Feb. stand-alone issue of The News84Media magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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