Black Panther is projected to reach monumental numbers at the box office. The film encompasses extraordinary acting, directing, producing and writing talents. One of the many amazing minds that brought the world of Wakanda to life is Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer behind one of Marvel’s most anticipated films.
Carter has been in the costume design business for decades. Her work on a Amistad earned her Academy Award nominations. Ruth E. Carter is also behind the costume design for Malcolm X, Selma, Marshall and What’s Love Got To Do With It. Although Black Panther will be the first super hero film on ther resume, Carter chose to tackle the project with the same outlook as she would a historical biopic.
With a biopic or historically based film, the costume designer is charged with the responsibility of studying the world as it existed. With Wakanda, a fictional African country, Carter says she did the same.
“The similarity is, you have to study the world around them and you have to create the wordl around them. So that part of it I was exercised in and so I looked at the Black Panther and the world with which he lived in, because that is our story and we have a little bit more freedom to decide what our world was going to look like and where we were going to draw our inspiration from” Carter says in an interview with TooFab.
One major difference in providing costumes for the world of Wakanda is there was no definite reference point. Carter notes that she researched African tribes and sectioned Wakanda drawing inspiration from specific cultural group in each part. Carter also attributes inspiration to pop culture experiences like AfroPunk.
“I didn’t have like visuals of a photograph to look at [for reference]. What I looked at for Wakanda was the ancient African tribes. We sectioned each part of Wakanda by what tribe inspired that particular area’s look. So that kind of informed me. Then, in pop culture, right now there is a movement called Afropunk. And Afropunk really celebrates dark skin, creative expression.”
The striking presence of the characters of Black Panther is displayed in their ornate costumes. Carter was inspired by many sources for each look. Working with Marvel, who Carter says was very hands on in the creative process, was a new experience.
“I just had to keep moving and when they asked for a show and tell, I was like, OK, open the door. Let them in. Let them see what you’re doing. And then when they’re done looking and they give you a nod of approval, close the door , get back, keep it moving.”
Working on a film of this caliber can be intimidating. Carter had similar pressures as the costume designer for Malcolm X. Carter remembers working with Spike Lee on this film and his motivational words still echo for her today.
“A long time ago when I worked for Spike Lee, and he called me and said ‘We’re going to make a movie about the life of Malcolm X’ he said ‘But I don’t want you to think about an Oscar. Just do the work. Just do a good job.’ and I never forgot that”.