Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter Dishes On Her Oscar-Winning 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' Looks
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Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter dishes on the popularity of Black Panther, its costumes and honoring the late Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
“I never considered myself a designer,” says Oscar-winning costumer designer Ruth E. Carter of where she got her start. “I’ve always been a creative person. I’ve always enjoyed art, painting, drawing for as long as I can remember. I also enjoy the stories, storytelling—I love spoken word; I was a lyricist.” Growing up in a small town in Massachusetts, Carter’s mother was a psychologist who worked for the city and would “know everybody’s stories.” Though the path to becoming a costume designer was by default, she says.
“I had two brothers that were in art—visual artists, one in oil, the other pencil. … I was very close to them and we created characters, funny characters that kids [make up],” she says of her artistic childhood. “It wasn’t until I got to college at Hampton University and studied special education that I really just wanted to work in theater for the deaf.” Carter auditioned for a play but didn’t get the role. The director then suggested that she create the costumes. “It was like the consolation prize,” she says.
Ruth E. Carter won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 2019 for Black Panther and in 2023 for Wakanda Forever. PHOTO BY BETINA LA PLANTE
“What I discovered was that I could draw and actually perform in a way by creating a costume for someone else. ... And I can play all the characters, not just one,” Carter adds. In 2019, she became the first Black woman to win the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for Black Panther [EDITOR'S NOTE: Carter won this award for the second time at the 2023 Academy Awards].
READ MORE: Here Is The Full List Of 2023 Oscar Winners
The star-studded cast of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever includes Letitia Wright as Shuri PHOTO COURTESY OF MARVEL STUDIOS © 2022 MARVEL
Now as the world enjoys Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (which premiered Nov. 11), she discusses the reason for the beloved Marvel series’ fanfare. When people were introduced to a place called Wakanda that wasn’t colonized, “it took the world by storm,” she says. “It was a superhero model, but based on African culture,” she says.
The biggest shift from the first movie to the second is the 2020 death of actor Chadwick Boseman, who played Wakanda’s king, the Black Panther himself, T’Challa. Carter says the film’s team came together as a family. “We could not [physically] embrace each other, we were all separated, so the way we comforted each other was to know that we had the intention of moving forward—that was birthed by Boseman’s spirit and memories of him.”
On top of a tremendous loss for the cast, the team couldn’t physically get together. “We had to do this whole film on Zoom,” Carter says of working during the pandemic. She had many things to tackle: “We wanted to upgrade the armor; we wanted to change the Jabari [the mountain tribe]; we were introducing a new military faction of the navy; there was the [ancient underwater civilization] Talocan—the cousins to the Mayans.”
One of the biggest challenges was to introduce nine new superheroes in Wakanda Forever. She explains that it was done collectively, over many months and meetings with director Ryan Coogler; Marvel’s Kevin Feige and Victoria Alonso; and visual department head Ryan Meinerding; then with visual effects, special effects, props, hair and makeup, and other teams. “There were hundreds of designs submitted. I have a team of illustrators from all over the world,” she notes.
Florence Kasumba as Ayo and Angela Bassett as Ramonda PHOTO COURTESY OF MARVEL STUDIOS © 2022 MARVEL
In Wakanda Forever, Carter hopes to honor her friend, Boseman, and his memory. “Now we have purpose,” she notes, pointing to the first scenes of the trailer where Wakandans are dressed in all white in honor of T’Challa, who has passed away. “All the costumes were pretty incredible; we were preparing it for months. It was the first thing that we were going to shoot and you have these different tribes that all had to wear white and everyone knows it’s a very colorful world when it comes to tribal dress,” she says of having to show the various tribes differently but keep them all in white out of respect.
On the day of shooting, Carter reveals, “I was watching the monitor and there was a high camera looking down on the procession, so you saw the groups, you know, and it was so beautiful. It was overwhelming. ... [Production designer] Hannah Beachler and I were hugging and crying.”
As well as Mabel Cadena as Namora. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARVEL STUDIOS © 2022 MARVEL