‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’: Creating the tribes’ hair

Camille Friend, Oscar nominee for Best Makeup and Hair, explains how she created the look for the tribes and Talokanil.

“This is not another superhero movie,” Camille Friend, head of hair for “Black Panther” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” says of Ryan Coogler’s Marvel sequel. “It’s a movie with heart and soul, and we’re interested in what’s happening on screen and behind the screen, and there are people of color (on both sides). And we’re great in a movie—that’s what we do.”

Friend, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work on “Wakanda Forever,” estimated that 95 percent of the “Black Panther” crew is likely back for the sequel in summer 2021 in Atlanta. And it was a difficult return for everyone after Black Panther himself. Chadwick Boseman died of cancer less than a year earlier.

“Everyone was pretty devastated and grieving,” says Friend. “One of the nicest things is (director) Ryan (Coogler) put us all on a plane and we go to Chadwick’s grave for a little service. We had drummers there. And his best friend, Jabari. It was significant and we needed it because it gave us more closure. When we got back to Atlanta, it was like, “OK, let’s go to work.”

The opening scene of “Wakanda Forever” reflects grief and off-camera closure, with King T’Challa’s glorious mission featuring 200 extras in white representing all the tribes.

“I wanted everyone to be able to tell which tribe was which,” says Friend. “So I tried to integrate the hair into the whole mourning scene. And Ruthie (costume designer Ruth Carter) did an excellent job of dressing everyone in white, but also showing the individualism of each tribe’s clothing.”

A scene from Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.  Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.  © 2022 MARVEL.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Mining Tribe is inspired by the Himba people of northern Namibia, whose women are known for applying a paste of butter, fat and red ocher to their hair and skin. “We built our own clay wigs because you can’t call 1-800-Africa and have someone send you those wigs,” says Friend. “I have a really talented team and they’ve been great at perfecting these wigs. We actually called them ‘Home Depot wigs’ because they were made of plaster of Paris and real paint.”

Senegalese warriors inspired the haircuts of the Jabari tribe, so Friend and his team served as a reference for the lines, shapes and warrior paint.

Nikia River Tribe (Lupita Nyong’o) made her screen debut in the sequel. “Here you see people with lips and flowers in their hair,” Friend explained. “And finally The Border Tribe.” Since they are the army of Wakanda, we always wanted them to look like military guys. So everyone has the tall and tight.

The concept of Ramonda (Oscar nominee Angela Bassett) and Shuri (Letitia Wright) came from the mourning ritual of shaved heads in African culture. “They would have mourned for a year after T’Challa’s death, so what would their hair look like after the year of mourning?”

(Ramonda) Friend kept the queen’s hair in tones of platinum and silver, so it was familiar, but after her curls were gone, she wanted to keep the beautiful, stately look. She worked in tandem with Carter, and the many hooded costumes put Ramonda into it.

“Your hair should look like a crown,” says Friend. “So that’s where we came in with the curls and the shape so that whether she had a hat on or not, she was still our queen.”

Shurival Friend wanted to show her evolution from this funny kid to a young woman: “I shaved her sides but curled her top. We took out the braids and painted her like a young woman who is grieving and trying to figure herself out, she has to step up and be a leader to be the princess.

The biggest change (and challenge) for Friend was the addition of the Talokan story. The Sea People were inspired by the ancient Mayans, and like everything in Coogler’s universe, authenticity and traditional accuracy were important. But when Friend started researching, he realized that because the Mayan culture had been dead for so long, there wasn’t much that could be easily found online.

Read more: Why turbidity mattered for Wētā FX’s ‘Wakanda Forever’ water

“It’s really awesome that Marvel brought us Professor Geraldo Aldana, an expert on Mayan studies,” he says. “He was our favorite in everything (anything) it seemed. She explained to me which hairstyle would suit a married or single woman better and which would suit an older woman. He gave us such wisdom and guided us through this process.”

Mabel Cadena as Namora in Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER.  Photo: Annette Brown.  © 2022 MARVEL.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Annette Brown

Once Friend started designing Talokanil’s hairstyles, he sent them to Aldana, and if it wasn’t completely culturally appropriate, he scrapped the idea. On the big underwater shoot days, Friend had 25-40 Talokanil, each with a different hair piece and style.

“We found in camera tests that the product we put on these wigs produced a big white cloud when they went into the water,” says Friend. “I thought, oh boy, this doesn’t look good. And the hair had to be good under the water, but we couldn’t use gel or hairspray. We came up with what I call adhesive hairspray – we bought hair glue and diluted it with alcohol to spray it on the hair through a bottle. We did some tests and the water didn’t turn white and the hair stayed in its style underwater. It held up under water pressure and long hours in the water. We had to figure that out, and we did.”

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