Textile Queen – Ruth Carter’s Magic Touch For the Win!

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Ruth E. Carter accepts the award for best costume design for "Black Panther" at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
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We’re gearing up for the 91st Academy Awards and Black Panther’s nomination gives us a lot to look forward to. Black Panther breaks another boundary by becoming the first comic book movie nominated for best picture but without Ruth Carter’s genius the vision may not have come to fruition. Carter, the visionary behind the film’s Afrotuturistic imagery, is nominated for Best Costume Design. Her talent is finally taking the world stage and on Sunday, she could be the first African American person to win an Oscar in her category nomination. Ahead of the Oscars, Carter, who is a Hampton University alum, received a career achievement award at the Costume Designers Guild Awards in Beverly Hills.  

‘‘After working on ‘Black Panther,’ you all asked me ‘How did it feel experiencing designing my first superhero?’ Truth is, I’ve been designing superheroes my entire career,’’ she told the Boston Globe.

Her vision has shaped some iconic movies for decades. Carter was born in Massachusetts’s, but her career began in 1986 after working with the Los Angeles Theater Center. She met director Spike Lee who hired her for his second film, School Daze (1988). From there, Carter’s vision has shaped films like Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Malcolm X, What’s Love Got to Do With It, The Butler, Serenity, Selma and more.


This Jan. 15, 2019 photo shows renderings of fashions created by Oscar nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter from Spike Lee’s 1992 film “Malcolm X,” in Los Angeles. Carter will also be honored for her illustrious career at the 21st annual Costume Designers Guild Awards on Tuesday in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

On her vision for Black Panther she has stated:

I knew Marvel comic books and that this super fandom was big, so I was enthusiastic. I was curious,” Carter said. “I thought this has got to be an important film, and it had to be something that was Afrofuturist … I would have to represent images of beauty, forms of beauty, from the African tribal traditions so that African-Americans could understand it; so that (non-black) Americans could understand African-Americans better; so we could start erasing a homogenized version of Africa.

so we could start erasing a homogenized version of Africa.

Ruth Carter

In Black Panther we saw visual representation from Ghana, South Africa, East African, and more. Carter was intentional about using certain color palettes, and symbolism in creating looks for the heroes. For example, Okoye, T’Challa and Nakia can be seen wearing red, black and green, which represents the Pan-African flag. In Shuri’s first scene she’s wearing a shirt that features the Ghanaian Adinkra symbol for “purpose” on it, the Dora Milaje uniforms have armour inspired by south african jewelry, and more.


In this photo made on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, Courtney Beecraft checks the costumes from the film “Black Panther” as work continues installing an exhibit of Ruth E. Carter cinematic costumes at Pittsburgh’s Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. The exhibit that opens Saturday, Aug. 25, explores Carter’s groundbreaking career. “Heroes & Sheroes: The Art and Influence of Ruth E. Carter in Black Cinema” showcases over 40 costumes from nine movies. The costumes include those from “Amistad,” “What’s Love Got to do With It,” “The Butler,” “Malcolm X,” “Selma,” “Do the Right Thing” and of course “Black Panther.” It is scheduled to run to Dec. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The comic books alone didn’t tell Carter what she needed to know as far as how to create the Wakandan style of dress, but she did a lot of research and looked into textile production, hand-dyeing, and beading techniques of the Tuareg, Zulu, Maasai, Himba and Dinka peoples, which helped inspire the film’s rich color palette. Carter has stated that she wanted to show the world the beauty of tribal dress and move it forward in an Afrofuturistic way.

In other words, Ruth Carter is a genius, and a legend and whether she wins the Oscar or not, it’s amazing to see her get her accolades while she’s still here. #BlackGirlMagic for the win!  


This Jan. 15, 2019 photo shows renderings of fashions created by Oscar nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter for the film “Black Panther,” in Los Angeles. Carter will also be honored for her illustrious career at the 21st annual Costume Designers Guild Awards on Tuesday in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

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