Visibly stunned as she appeared on stage, and later in the press room, Beachler thanked her fellow nominees for the “extraordinary worlds” they built this year before very personally saluting her director. “I stand here stronger than I was yesterday because of Ryan Coogler. You not only make me a better designer, a better storyteller, a better person; I stand here because of the person who gave me a different perspective on life,” the designer said.
Backstage, Beachler was still in shock. “Honestly, I’m just like, ‘This is so yellow!” she said, gazing at her statuette. “So you’ll have to excuse me because I am literally losing my mind.”
While she reflected on stage about the people that have made her feel strong throughout her journey with Black Panther—including Coogler, the Marvel team and her cast—Beachler spoke to the moments that have challenged her, and how she got through them, while speaking with the press. “I think as creatives, everyone goes through moments of struggle, depression, ‘This is so hard, I’m not going to be able to make it and do it,’ and it’s really about the people you surround yourself with,” the Oscar winner reflected, equating the experience of making the blockbuster to “eating an elephant, one spoonful at a time.”
Over at the Loews Hotel, Beachler also offered up her advice to young production designers starting out, as the first African-American person to be nominated in her category, and the first to win it. “Don’t ever let anybody tell you you can’t do this craft,” Beachler said. “You are worthy, you are beautiful and this is something for you.”
Eyed as a top contender throughout the season, Beachler’s history-making win tonight wasn’t a sure bet; as with most categories at the 91st Academy Awards, Production Design presented a strong and diverse field of contenders, stymieing the handicapping efforts of awards experts. In the culmination of a particularly unpredictable awards race, the designer beat out the likes of Nathan Crowley (First Man), John Myhre (Mary Poppins Returns), Eugenio Caballero (Roma), and Fiona Crombie (The Favourite). While Crowley and two-time Oscar winner Myhre have often been present at the Oscars over the years, with 11 nods between them, the latter two entrants were considered particularly strong competition this year.
One of two first-time nominees, Beachler had previously worked with Coogler on his breakout Sundance pic Fruitvale Station, as well as Creed, films which led up to the pair’s collaboration with actor Michael B. Jordan on Panther. Designing her first short in 2007, Beachler has also lent her talents to such films as Hateship Loveship and Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture winner, Moonlight. Given her long-standing collaborative relationship with Coogler, the choice to take on Black Panther was an easy one to make, she told the press. “There was never any doubt that I wanted to get involved, because I knew what it would become,” Beachler explained. “Not just a superhero film, but a film for the ages.”
Scripted by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther follows T’Challa, heir to the invisible, technologically advanced African kingdom of Wakanda, who steps forward to lead his people into a new future, while confronting an unexpected threat from the past.
While Coogler was snubbed at the Oscars and has yet to crack the awards show as a director, his singular blockbuster earned seven Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Costume Design and Best Production Design. So far tonight, it’s won the latter two categories.
But can Black Panther crack Best Picture? We’ll have to wait and see.