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It’s been a notable year for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw. She earned her first Emmy nomination with her debut Marvel project, the Disney+ series Loki, then was praised for her work on the studio’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which will wrap the season as one of the highest-grossing films of the year. At press time, it had passed the $400 million mark at the domestic box office and earned $767.8 million worldwide.
She landed the gig when director Ryan Coogler’s frequent collaborator and her friend, DP Rachel Morrison, had a scheduling conflict and was unavailable to work on the sequel to the 2018 hit. “When Rachel found out that she was unable to shoot Panther 2, she brought my name up,” explains Durald Arkapaw, who like Morrison is an AFI grad. “Obviously, I was already interested. But after speaking to Ryan and meeting him, it just solidified that for me, because he’s a very special individual.”
At that point, Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed T’Challa/Black Panther, had died, and the script was being revised. The filmmakers chose not to recast T’Challa, but rather have the character die of an illness as the movie begins. “We would pay homage to him, and it would be very sensitive. I took it very seriously.”
On the visual style, she reflects that “what they did [on the original] was so groundbreaking. The intention this time was to explore that even further and give more scope to that world.” The film introduces new worlds and characters, and thematically, “we’re shining light more on our female protagonists … dealing with grief, rebirth.” Durald Arkapaw used anamorphic lenses for a wider view. “The glass that we chose renders some more vintage qualities, more aberrations, has a dreamier quality,” she says. She and Coogler wanted the lighting to feel natural and real.
Most of the film was shot in Atlanta, but there were additional location shoots, including an intimate scene lensed on a beach in Puerto Rico. There, Letitia Wright’s Shuri burns clothes and allows herself to grieve her brother. And, as part of the end credits (spoiler alert!), she meets Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), who reveals that she and T’Challa had a son. “Ryan and I wanted to [shoot] at the end of the day. That was the best light for the angle we wanted. And we got a little bit lucky; there was a lot of wind that day, and the trees were blowing. There wasn’t a ton of cloud cover. You got that nice, beautiful flare coming in the lens.”
She continues, “Their performance is so sensitive and beautiful. That’s one of the most impactful things I’ve ever shot, as far as everything timing out to be so beautiful and natural. And on a beach in Puerto Rico, where we’re watching the sunset right behind her …”
Durald Arkapaw adds: “It encapsulates what this movie is. It’s about family, and it’s about rebirth. It’s about trying to let go of grief, but it does stay with you, and sometimes you have to carry it with you, and you’re reminded of it. It’s one of the most beautiful endings I think I’ve seen.”
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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