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Oscars 2019: Hannah Beachler makes history as the first black person to win production design

Oscars 2019: Hannah Beachler makes history as the first black person to win production design
Hannah Beachler, the production designer for best picture nominee "Black Panther," made history Sunday night as the first African American to win an Oscar for production design. (Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)

Hannah Beachler made history Sunday as the first African American to take home a trophy in the production design category for her work on "Black Panther."

The 48-year-old, who has already taken home an Art Directors Guild award and a Critics Choice Award for her work on the film, is also the first African American ever to be nominated in the category. She was nominated and shared the win with set decorator Jay R. Hart.

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"My thought is I have to harness this moment and turn it into more...," she said of her nomination a week before the Oscars. "I can't just let it slip away and become a big nothing after."

Scenes from the movie "Black Panther."
Scenes from the movie "Black Panther." (Marvel Studios)

"Panther" marks Beachler's third time working with director Ryan Coogler. She worked with him on his first feature, 2013's "Fruitvale Station," and again in 2015 on the Rocky spinoff "Creed."

"I stand here stronger than I was yesterday. I stand here with agency and self-worth because of Ryan Coogler," she said breathlessly in her acceptance speech. "Who not only made me a better designer but a better storyteller, a better person. I stand here because of this man who offered me a different perspective of life, who offered me a safe space, who’s patient and gave me air, humanity and brotherhood. Thank you, Ryan, and I love you."

In her backstage remarks, Beachler continued to thank Coogler effusively and often, particularly when asked about how she made it through tough times on set.

"Everyone goes through moments of struggle and depression," she said. "It's really about the people that you surround yourself with...It's like eating an elephant one spoonful at a time because 'Panther' was just ginormous and there was a lot to do and a lot of research. It was nonstop. So you lean on the people that you love and that are family and I would consider Ryan and everyone on 'Panther' part of my family."

She also credited him for giving her the best career advice she's ever received.

"The advice that changed everything the most for me was when I arrived in Oakland all those years ago with Ryan on the first day and he said, 'Just be honest, be truthful, and be you because if you're not yourself, then this is never going to work.' "

She has also worked with Barry Jenkins on "Moonlight" and Beyoncé on "Lemonade." She's currently working on the upcoming Todd Haynes drama "Dry Run."

Beachler and Hart’s competition for the Oscar included Bárbara Enríquez and Eugenio Caballero for "Roma," Kathy Lucas and Nathan Crowley for "First Man," Alice Felton and Fiona Crombie for "The Favourite" amd Gordon Sim and John Myhre for "Mary Poppins Returns."

"Black Panther," which was the highest-grossing movie of 2018 in the U.S. (and the third highest grossing of all time) with over $700 million, was nominated for seven Academy Awards: for best picture, original score, original song, costume design, sound editing, sound mixing and production design.

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