When Black Panther came out in 2018 to rave reviews, city planners in the audience noticed something else: the most fascinating depiction of a municipal transportation system since “Minority Report.” Unlike the CGI creations accompanying most superhero backstories, Golden City, the fictional capitol of King T’Challa’s home of Wakanda, is a complex metropolis of skyscrapers and neighborhoods that somehow feel possible, all criss-crossed by magnetic levitating trains and pedestrian zones and devoid of traffic as we know it.
“There are no cars in Wakanda,” said Academy Award-winning production designer Hannah Beachler. “I think they’ve evolved past that. Futurism is about not just the evolution of technology and the evolution of transportation, it’s the evolution of people. It’s 2018 in Wakanda and they’ve been technologically advanced since the Bronze Age. That’s not to say that there can’t be cars in Wakanda, because we haven’t seen it all. But there’s no cars in Golden City. There’s only public transit and walking.”
Beachler tells No Parking her vision and values behind the conceptualization gave urbanists a cathartic outlet to explore the political dimensions of what it means to be a “modern” transportation system.
Yes, it’s utopia, but it’s also an extension of what one culture values. Here in the real world, Beachler values her Porsche 911, and she has no illusions about why.
“The danger of it all,” she said of her connection to car racing. “It’s the engine, that’s the first thing. My way of meditating is driving, it’s the fact that I have to focus. When I’m on the track, I’m not screaming at the car next to me. That’s my space. There’s no one that I have to answer to inside my car. There’s nothing that I have to like. I’m not obligated to entertain anybody. I’m not obligated to do work. I can’t, because I’m driving. Not on the phone. I never get on the phone when I’m in a car. Then it’s control. Because I’m type A. I love driving. It is everything to me.”
Beachler said she’s also optimistic about the real-world future of self-driving, IF people like she and others lead the way.
“My mother would never get into [an autonomous vehicle],” she said, “but she would get in an autonomous vehicle with me.”