How “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”‘s Lead Hairstylist Used Haircuts to Pay Homage to African Culture — See Photos

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I’ll never forget when Marvel’s Black Panther premiered in 2018. The African Student Union at my university organized a huge viewing of the movie at a local theater, complete with a red carpet and an Afrocentric dress code. It was instantly clear that this was a movie for the culture. Now, four years after the debut of Black Panther and two years after the death of actor Chadwick Boseman, the Marvel franchise excitedly yet sorrowfully continues with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The film, which hits theaters on November 11, carries much of the visual aesthetic from the first film, including the beautifully complex hairstyles created by the film’s hair department lead, Camille Friend

In any good film, hair should act as an aid in revealing things about the characters, plot, and context of the story — and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever does an amazing job of doing just that. After reading the script, Friend had long talks with director Ryan Coogler about what the characters would look like and how their appearance would communicate the passage of time between the first film and the sequel. “We wanted to give them a little age,” Friend tells me over Zoom. “How would they look if it were five years later? Especially as Black people, we change; we cut our hair, we grow it; we put weaves in or wear wigs. We’re always evolving through our hairstyles, so we considered evolving everybody to that next level of what Wakanda Forever would be.” 

Of course, many fans have been wondering how the film will address Boseman’s absence and what Black Panther will even be without him. The reality of the actor’s passing certainly weighed heavily on the cast and crew, including Friend and the rest of the hair department. “[Coogler] took us all to [Boseman’s] gravesite, and that really helped us as a whole. We got to pray; we got to meditate. Drummers came, and we just got to have that experience with each other,” Friend recounts. “I think it was really important that we had a little bit of closure.” After receiving that closure, Friend felt more hopeful to forge ahead with the hairstyling direction for the film. Despite it being a sequel, Friend approached Wakanda Forever as its own independent project.

Below, Friend reveals the stories behind some of the character’s hairstyles, which pay homage to Boseman and African cultures, reflect characters’ personalities, and meld one actor’s personal hair journey with her character’s. 

Shuri and Ramonda

Marvel Studios 

In the first film, T’Challa’s (aka the Black Panther’s) younger sister, Shuri (Leticia Wright) was characterized by her sassy wit, strong individualism, and savvy intellect, traits that were reflected in her honey-tinted micro braids, often wrapped in a half-up style with an intricate bun on the top. Ramonda, the Queen of Wakanda and T’Challa’s mother (Angela Bassett) was instantly recognizable in the first film by her regal cylinder-shaped headpiece that sits atop a cascade of white locs. 

Both characters have hair that’s significantly shorter than it was in the first Black Panther, and Friend reveals to me there’s a poignant reason for that. “In the beginning [before filming], we talked about how, in their mourning of T’Challa, [Shuri and Ramonda could] cut their hair off,” Friends explains. “So that’s how we came to doing shorter hairstyles for them throughout the movie.” It’s actually a common practice for women to cut their hair while mourning in many African cultures, including those from Nigeria and Ethiopia. 

Shuri served as the first movie’s “fashionista,” as Friend puts it, and she along with director Ryan Coogler didn’t want to lose the character’s spunky personal style when cutting her hair. So Friend decided on a curly mohawk to maintain the narrative that Shuri has gone through a tragic loss but is still staying true to her spitfire self. For the curly mohawk, Nikki Right, a hairstylist on Friend’s team, used a 4C-textured hairpiece, on which she did a twist-out to achieve the final curl pattern. 


Marvel Studios

The hair for Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) was particularly special for Friend because Nyong’o is both a friend and client of the stylist; the close relationship the two share is reflected in Nakia’s hair in the film. Friend explains that while filming the movie, Nyong’o was in the process of getting sisterlocks, a style of micro dreadlocks done on natural hair. “She was growing her own hair out, so I was like, ‘that is a journey,'” Friend says. 

The pair decided to carry that journey over into Nyong’o’s character by giving Nakia bold red-tinged dreadlocks in the movie, a stark contrast from the short Bantu knots she wore in the first movie. “We thought about how can we evolve her and what she’s been through… and [Nyong’o] sent me pictures of a lot of different dreadlocks,” Friend recalls. “So we decided to do beautiful locs in her signature color, which we call ‘Nakia red.'” 

To achieve Nakia’s fiery locs, Friend called on Nappstar, a Black female-owned dreadlock salon with multiple locations across the country. Friend also worked with wig maker Natasha Lasky, who created the base of the wigs for most of the movie’s characters. The dreadlock extensions provided by Nappstar were custom-colored by Friend, who “basically did an ombré and bleached them before putting color back into them and installing them onto the wig base,” Friend explains. 


Marvel Studios

Friend shares that the look of the Jabbari tribe in the franchise, led by M’Baku (Winston Duke), takes inspiration from Senegalese warriors. When conceptualizing the character’s look for the new film, Friend played off the idea of a mohawk and referenced hairstyles on Black men from the ’80s — a “1980s Black Man Shag,” she calls the character’s new style. 

While working with natural hair textures, Friend was conscious to incorporate hair care into the styling process for each actor. “Integrity of hair is really important to me so every night when everybody comes in and gets their hairpiece taken off, we take care of their hair by massaging the scalp (using the Better Not Younger Superpower Fortifying Hair & Scalp Serum) and using different products to keep their hair in its strength,” says Friend. 

While on set, Friend used a bevy of products to bring these looks together and help them stay put throughout long filming days, stunts, and just the bustle of a busy Hollywood set — a lot of the movie’s scenes were actually filmed underwater during Atlanta’s heatwaves, so talk about a hectic set. 

Of all the products she used on set, the Prose Custom Styling Gel became Friend’s holy grail. As a member of the brand’s first-ever haircare advisory board, Friend played a part in the development process of Prose’s Custom Styling Gel. “I brought different formulas on set and put them to the test on the cast and crew,” Friend says. “After the end of a long day, I would check in with the styles, which amazingly all held their shape and weren’t affected by humidity or needed a touch-up.” 

Design Essentials Natural Almond & Avocado Curl Enhancing Mousse

Ampro Magic Fingers Braiders Hair Pomade

Friend also told Allure during another interview that the Design Essentials Natural Almond & Avocado Curl Enhancing Mousse and Shine-N-Jam Magic Fingers Edge Control also played important roles in the movie’s hairstyling. 

Reflecting back on her experience working on the film, Friend says she loved working on this project because of how intentional everything was. Even concerning hair, the team had cultural and historical advisors come in to consult on how to best make the aesthetics realistic and authentic and to honor the cultures they were pulling inspiration from. “That to me is probably one of our greatest achievements in this movie,” Friend says. “That’s what I’m most proud of.” 

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