Autumn Durald Arkapaw interview: ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ cinematographer
When cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw was initially approached to join “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” she was already familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Arkapaw served as the cinematographer on the first season of the Marvel series “Loki” and scored one of the acclaimed show’s six Emmy Award nominations for her work. But “Wakanda Forever” presented a much greater challenge for Arkawpaw and “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler: a large-scale Marvel sequel that also reckoned with the death of star Chadwick Boseman and included intimate moments of mourning and unflinching depictions of grief.
“It was very important to Ryan to kind of have this fog or texture of grief that would be a throughline in the visuals and would be felt,” Arkapaw tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview. “I think it’s always important to listen to your director emotionally, and see what he or she wants to bring to the table, first and foremost. What they want their audiences to feel, instead of getting bogged down with exacting visual references and stuff.”
Her connection with Coogler, Arkapaw adds, was of utmost importance. “I’m an emotional shooter,” she continues. “If I’m sitting right behind the camera, and I’m not emoting, or if I don’t feel what we’re trying to convey to the audience, your audience won’t feel it… It’s a very big film, there’s a lot of action, and big sets, but it feels very intimate and personal. And that’s what I think is successful about it. Because you don’t find that very often when you have these big films.”
Set in the aftermath of 2018’s “Black Panther,” which landed a historic Best Picture nomination for Marvel and won Oscars for the film’s score by Ludwig Goransson, production design from Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, and costume design by Ruth E. Carter, “Wakanda Forever” focuses primarily on Shuri (Letitia Wright) as she grapples with not just the death of her brother, T’Challa (Boseman), but the emergence of a new threat to Wakanda in the form of Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia). In a welcome twist from traditional entries in the Marvel canon, “Wakanda Forever” primarily focuses on the experiences of women of color – not just Shuri, but Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett in a performance that has generated awards buzz), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).
“Having so many strong women with big, vibrant personalities on and off set was really amazing,” Arkapaw, who is Black and Filipino, says. “You get to know their face and their angles as far as lighting, and just the beauty of their personality. So I think because they’re so special – and they really are special people in their daily life, but also performers – I feel like we found the framing for a lot of the women in the film.”
While Arkapaw connects with actors and actresses equally, she has a long history of projects with female protagonists front and center. “As a woman, I like to take care of my actresses. There’s a connection that I have, obviously, when they’re female performers, being a woman myself and being a mother. So it was lovely to talk to Ryan about that early on, and make sure that these women were portrayed beautifully, emotionally, dreamy, strong – that’s the way that they’re photographed,” she says. “You rarely see this many women of color in these very powerful positions. Ryan and [co-writer] Joe Robert Cole did such a great job of making the female characters full – not just like one note. That’s really great to watch – not just to be there to shoot that but also as an audience member to tell my family about it. Because, you know, they also enjoyed seeing that, because it’s very rare to see that on the big screen.”
Arkapaw says Coogler was a dream collaborator, in part because of his commitment to the larger “Wakanda Forever” family.
“He’s a lovely human being, and he cares about everybody on set,” she says. “He still considers the families outside of the people on the set that make the film – because it’s long hours and all this stuff. So when you work for someone like that, your relationship with them is very felt.”
Coogler’s influence, she adds, is particularly notable in the opening of “Wakanda Forever,” a memorial service for T’Challa that doubles as an onscreen outpouring of feelings for Boseman.
“It’s accurate to how they felt about Chadwick and also the storytelling of just the people that came before us,” she says. “Most of our [department heads] on set were people of color. So not only are we talking about our ancestors’ history, but we’re presenting some of our ethnicities in such a bright and vibrant way – powerful and confident. So all of those things are very important to Ryan and the filmmakers, and Hannah and Ruth. I think, emotionally, the strength shines within those scenes because of who we are, culturally, but also just because of how Ryan is as a person and how affected he was by the loss of Chadwick and their relationship, and how all of the other players that came before me that made the first one felt about Chadwick.”
“Wakanda Forever” is out in theaters now.