From its high-performing, yet sleek superhero costumes to its culturally – appropriate, yet modern-day outfits, the first film’s Oscar-winning fashion choices were an integral part of the success and popularity of the movie. The person responsible for these trends is costume designer, Ruth Carter, and according to her, the next movie’s selections will be no different.
HelloBeautiful sat down with the Academy Award-winning costume designer this week to discuss the upcoming movie and her path in the fashion and film industries.
Who is Ruth Carter?
Originally from Springfield, Massachusetts Carter came from a prominent artistic family. She was one of eight children who each had an affinity for the arts in their own way. Carter laughs that her older brother was the “true artist” in the family.
“I grew up drawing on a desk that was actually my mom’s sewing machine, so I was familiar with it,” Carter shared. “I was good at art, but it was a hobby. It was something I did for fun.”
It wouldn’t be until college that Carter found her true calling. Carter describes herself as a self-taught designer. While a Hampton Institute (now University) graduate, Carter originally majored in special education. She did not move into the arts until her junior year and there was no official costume design program.
Despite this fact, however, she quickly found her way. “I didn’t get a role I tried out for in a play but my professor asked me if I wanted to do the costumes and I said yes. I remember the very first budget, it was $500 – as a college student that was a lot of money.”
From that play on, Carter continued to provide back-of-the-house services for Hampton plays, and though not the popular girl at school, became known for them. She credits her campus professor and mentors for first calling her an artist and costume designer. After several successful productions graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts.
Since then, Carter has had a long 30-year career as a designer in film and television. Her resume demonstrates her acumen through work on films with directors from John Singleton and Spike Lee to Ava Duvernay, Stephen Spielberg and Black Panther’s Ryan Ryan Coogler.
Carter continued, “I was always in love with period African American stories … I really want my characters to just leap off the page and my background in theatre helped me understand that I could actually do that if I set you the period for fabric, color palette, socioeconomics and all of those things.”
Her work on Black Panther won her an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. The designs found in the films – Black Panther 1 and now 2 – are coined as “Afro-futurism.”
Afrofuturism is a cultural aesthetic that combines science fiction, history, and fantasy to explore the Black experience and connect those from the African Diaspora with their lost ancestry. To create this aesthetic, Carter combined her costuming experience from her 30-year career with research and study. Beyond studying images and historical documents, Carter consults multiple sources, speaks with historians, travels to related countries, and learns diverse design techniques all to enhance her costumes.
About Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever
“These costumes are not normal costumes,” Carter shared. “They are made in several stages, and they have several amazing way ways of functioning. Including communities and tribes, we easily dressed more than 1500 people in this film and introduced nine superheroes. Each had their own super suits. This is unheard of.”
Just as impressive as the sheer volume and diversity of the costumes found in Black Panther 2 is the themes told through fashion. Carter smiled as she shared the connections between her costuming and the storylines in the upcoming film.
“I believe this film shows how women take on the role as matriarch and patriarch at the same time when there is loss of the family,” said Carter. “For example, Queen Ramonda is introduced as the queen and leader of Wakanda. So, beauty, vulnerability, strength, femininity are some of the characteristics that I symbolized through clothing in the film.”