Black Panther: How Sound and Vision Made the 2017 Trailer a Zeitgeist Moment
An Introduction Fit for a King
The year was 2017, and the seeds of social unrest over civil injustice were taking root and influencing the zeitgeist at the same time that Black Panther, the first MCU film to be led by a Black actor, was on its path to release.
Our team understood early on that this was not just a regular movie, but something special that reflected a cultural moment. Inspired by the gravity of the assignment, we put a massive collaborative effort into action with the goal of honoring the stunning source material.
Over 50 million YouTube views and a $1.3 billion box office haul later, and the rest is history....
The chance to work on this trailer was given to us by our amazing clients at Disney: John "Ibby" Ibsen, SVP of creative advertising, and Lauren Wright, VP of creative advertising. Having teamed up with Ibby in the past, we knew we had the benefit of an ideal collaborator who could provide singular creative guidance and support, so we were excited to dive in. They immediately launched us into action with their creative direction—Black Panther was all about the old meeting the new. An ancient civilization with hi-tech prowess. This was our starting point. It was clear that Ibby and Lauren wanted to raise the bar with this trailer by challenging us to make a real statement. And we delivered.
In preparation, we brought together a team of visionaries to take on the task, with Create's EVP Michael Trice (now VP of creative advertising at Disney) and VP Zoe Chau steering the process, and industry veteran Brendan Lambe doing the editorial crafting. This core team was supported by multiple divisions at Create, most notably the writing team led by our head writer, Dee Dee Cecil, and Esther Aronson during the concept phase, as well as our music team, led by head of music Heather Kreamer and music supervisor Craig Thompson.
With the help of our partners at Disney, our collaboration even extended to director Ryan Coogler himself, who supported the process and helped bring in Vince Staples to lend his lyrical talents to make this a truly unique trailer experience.
In a crowded cinematic universe, where every existing Marvel superhero already commands the viewer's attention, an impactful introduction is paramount. We were not only introducing a new superhero, we were also giving audiences their first glimpse of his distinctive setting: Wakanda.
Critical to both the plot and Black Panther's identity, we knew the big reveal of Wakanda to audiences had to create a sense of awe. The speech by Agent Ross, a CIA veteran who has "seen it all," provided a clear and digestible way in—serving as the audience's POV. The line, "Where have you been hiding this?" sets the stage for the film, and T'Challa's cool confidence in his response sets the tone for his character.
Following that, the goal was to bring audiences further into the details of a hyper-advanced nation that is just as much defined by its traditional culture as by its technology, integrating our core strategy of juxtaposing the old with the new through contrasting visuals like ancient ritual combat followed by a look at Black Panther's brand new hi-tech suit.
Once the hero and his kingdom are established, and with the backend hitting like a bomb with Vince Staples' "BagBak," we introduced our villain Erik Killmonger to ratchet up the stakes. Then it was time for a hyped-up montage to take us out, with our goal being to establish the action-packed moments and introduce the grand scope of the film.
This structure allowed us to effectively integrate minimal yet impactful dialogue and create a clear visualization of the battle lines throughout, highlighting the differences in how T'Challa and Killmonger saw both the world and the conflict within the film itself... all without giving away too much.
It was a balanced approach that demonstrates how a little goes a long way, allowing us to tell a clear story while keeping it simple and engaging enough to drive audiences to theaters to discover more.
The Look and Sound
While the structure clearly conveyed the dynamics of the film, it was the look and sound that made this trailer a truly differentiated experience.
Early in the process, our team believed that Gil Scott-Heron's spoken word protest song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" could play an essential role for a film that was revolutionary in its own right.
We combined this incisive and influential song with the high-energy, searing "BagBak." The confidently defiant energy of the song resonated deeply with the film, and we wanted to draw those lyrics in the same way we drew in Gil Scott-Heron's.
It was blending these two together where the real work began.
Hitting All the Right Beats
In the preliminary stages, we had several composers tell us it was a near-impossible task, but the final result was executed with the combined efforts of our editor Brendan Lambe and the creative guidance and expertise of our music team. Along the way, we leaned on the support of our label and composer partners, and it was the collaboration of an entire village that was critical to enabling the mashup of three different cues all on top of each other.
But we didn't stop there. Vince Staples gave us more than just one incredible song. After director Ryan Coogler reached out to the artist, Vince Staples generously went into the studio to ad-lib additional vocals that took the trailer to another level.
Harnessing the Beauty of Afro-Futurism
This singular sound clearly needed visuals to match. We wanted it to feel like an authentic extension of the themes that define Black Panther and Wakanda, while also paying homage to what makes the film stand out as a creative and cultural force.
This led us to focus on the beautifully rich themes of afrofuturism, an aesthetic and philosophical exploration that played a key role in Ryan Coogler's vision. Just like the movement itself, we blended and juxtaposed the contemporary futuristic with the traditional, and in so doing, avoided making the trailer feel too modern, or too old, but a mix of the two to create something fresh.
Ibby, in addition to providing key guidance throughout the process, also offered us the ability to create an even more distinct identity through custom VFX shots that really elevated our narrative. A great example of this was the feature at the very end with T'Challa opening his claws, an interesting verité shot that looked cool and created a very compelling final moment to leave audiences with.
Making a Mark
Black Panther wasn't just a great film; it was a necessary one. We were honored to make our contribution to such a historic and groundbreaking film, and work so closely with a character that Chadwick Boseman put his heart, soul and brilliance into. We will forever be humbled and eternally grateful for this opportunity given to us by our friend and creative superhero Ibby, and the incredible Disney marketing team.