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How Lupita got the sci-fi Afrofuturist assassin look for Black Panther

Make-up artist Shutchai “Tym” Buacharern and hair stylist Camille Friend on how they got the characters ready for battle

It’s safe to say that Black Panther, a Marvel comic adaptation about the warring inhabitants of the fictional African nation Wakanda, has generated a fair amount of hype. Labelled a masterpiece by Playboy, people are already reviewing it based on its star-studded soundtrack alone - Kendrick, Beyoncé, SZAJames Blake and Jorja Smith all contribute. In order to lend the movie its essential sci-fi aesthetic, the makers turned to veteran make-up artist Shutchai “Tym” Buacharern to help Lupita Nyong’o become a steely-eyed undercover assassin and Angela Bassett a tough-talking Wakandan royalty.

Buacharern collaborated with a huge team of stylists, designers, and fellow make-up artists who worked tirelessly to get Black Panther’s cast ready for battle. He, along with hair stylist Camille Friend, was responsible for helping to create Afropunk-inspired looks for Nyong’o’s character Nakia, Bassett’s character Ramonda, and Oyoke (played by Danai Gurira).

California-based Buacharern spent months researching ideas long before the cameras began rolling. “Each character is from a different tribe, so we had to design their make-up accordingly, based on their job,” he explains. “We also took into account their costumes and surroundings.” The film’s universe setting, Wakanda, is an isolationist kingdom in north-eastern Africa. Therefore he says, “it was important to maintain the integrity of traditional looks and design, especially with the ceremonial styles.”

Buacharern was given free reign to adapt the characters’ make up depending on whether they were fighting, celebrating, or just getting on with day-to-day lives. “As a member of the Dora Milaje group of assassins, Nakia often goes out undercover into the world. So for those scenes, we kept her pretty clean and natural,” he says. Nyong’o adored the ceremonial make-up that she rocks in later scenes, and helped Buacharern to research ideas. “It was such a creative process,” he says. “We used sticks to create the facial lines and water reeds were used to make the circular forms. She told me it was her favourite look,” he says.

For Ramonda, the queen mother of Wakanda’s royal family and the surrogate mother of  protagonist T’Challa, the concept was straightforward: “I designed her make-up to be classic but regal,” says Buacharern. Oyoke’s make-up, on the other hand, required more attitude. “She’s the head of the Dora Milaje, with a shaved head and tattoos. I wanted her make-up to be strong, yet feminine. So I played with her eyes, giving her cat eyeliner to bring in a little nod to a panther.”

“It was such an amazing opportunity to be able to showcase black people from the continent of Africa in such a beautiful way" – Shutchai “Tym” Buacharern

Buacharern is no stranger to working with A-listers on enormous film sets, but he found working with Nyong’o, Bassett, and Gurira to be a unique experience. “It was like working with your family,” he says. “They were all so professional and trusted me to do my job. The project was challenging in so many ways but at the same time, we all had so much fun. We worked hard and we played hard. The atmosphere was great. Even on the hardest day we had music and live drummers to keep our energy up.”

Working alongside the make-up team was a sizeable team of hair stylists, led by Camille Friend, who is also based in California. As the head of the hair department, Friend seized the opportunity to show the versatility of Afro hair in all its glory, from braids and twists to natural locks. “It was such an honour to be able to work with these characters and to develop looks for a whole new universe in the Marvel world,” she says.

Although Black Panther had its challenges, she enjoyed working with the acclaimed cast: “Everybody brought their A-game,” she explains. “Working with Lupita was an absolute joy. She is a style and fashion icon and had a wonderful sense of what her her look should be in this movie. And Angela was someone I wanted to work with for a really long time. She was absolutely wonderful and we had great collaboration. She was very open about how we wanted to transform her look into something that audiences hadn’t seen on her before.”

“Working with Lupita was an absolute joy. She is a style and fashion icon and had a wonderful sense of what her her look should be in this movie” – Camille Friend

Friend was determined to make the characters’ hairstyles a memorable talking point. “For example, Michael B. Jordan, who plays the villainous Erik Killmonger, needed a look that was very masculine and sexy, but that also set him apart from the other characters.  So we came up with the dreadlocks with the faded sides. Jordan has never been seen on camera like that before.”

To keep the hairstyles in sync with the rest of Black Panther’s Afropunk elements, Friend combined the modern with the futuristic, especially for the female characters. “Black women are having a revolution of wearing their hair natural. The Afropunk movement has a lot of colour and texture which is very millennial-driven. In terms of futuristic inspiration, I found sci-fi films such as Blade Runner, Star Wars, and A Clockwork Orange to be a great reference. I also took inspiration from art, fashion, and pictures of traditional African tribes.”

Black Panther will be released in cinemas from February 13.