Ruth Carter on Designing Award-Winning Costumes for ‘Black Panther’
By: Dominique Vasquez
Academy Award winner for Best Costume Design in Black Panther, Ruth Carter, joined students of South Texas in March at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley as part of the school’s distinguished speakers series.
The audience was greeted by a large screen showcasing a compilation of Ruth Carter’s accomplishments and scenes debuting her work for films like Malcolm X (1992) and Sparkles (2012).
By the time the last few seconds of the empowering clip began to wane, Ruth Carter appeared from behind the screen, creating an entrance that gave the entire audience an invigorating rush that lead to whistles, cheers, and applauds.
Carter’s body language shifted the attitude of the seminar right away. While the podium and microphone were positioned back by the screen, Carter stood wholesomely by the edge of the stage to get in closer vicinity with the audience.
Carter started by sharing the inspiration behind her work stating that poets, painters, and playwrights allow her creations to come to life. Creatives from all different walks of life inspire her unique style, allowing her craft to truly shine.
Carter’s most explosive work yet is her designs for the 2018 film Black Panther. Carter explained that her costume illustrations were inspired by the idea of wanting to modernize African fashions by creating a “forward-thinking” royal family and showcasing different forms of beauty.
In her designs for the Maasai tribe, for example, Carter used the color red to pay homage to the African tribe’s roots while incorporating line work to honor the female form. The costume designer also remained connected to Africa by embellishing the surface of the Black Panther’s suit with a triangle symbolizing “the mother, the father, the child.”
Diving deeper into the making of the panther suit, Carter disclosed that the first design came from the film Captain America: Civil War (2016). To create suits that fit Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan seamlessly, the actors stepped into a scanning chamber that sculpted their bodies to create individual muscle suits.
Carter joked about needing to call Boseman to try on the suit in her office. After a wave of hearty laughter, she explained a moment of genuine appreciation towards the costume’s progress, “The panther is in my office.” She immediately knew that her work was a hit.
Another fun fact the designer shared was that the headdress showcased in the Miner tribe was made out of a Pier 1 Imports placemat that was cut into a circle to fit the actor’s face and covered with feathers along every side.
3D printing was also essential to making the film’s exquisite costumes, such as the Queen’s crown. Carter shared with the audience that this inspired her to make her own 3D-printed accessory to drape over her shoulders for her red carpet ensemble.
Once Carter wrapped up her presentation, the designer answered a few questions from the audience that allowed listeners to learn more about her humble beginnings. When she started on this career path, she didn’t care what gig she got, she just loved the process. In her early career, she interned at an opera in Mexico.
She explained the importance of creating a strong foundation and building one’s resume. “Approach your portfolio like it’s real,” she advised “Always be a student of your craft and don’t tether yourself to your mom or local towns. Be adventurous.”
Carter finished up her last tokens of advice and snippets of her career milestones, sharing “I’ve been doing this long before Spanx” and “All my career I’ve been dressing superheroes.”