‘Black Panther’ Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter: From Wardrobe to Walk of Fame

Ruth E. Carter (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Ruth E. Carter made history in 2019 as the first African American to win the Oscar for Best Costume Design for her work on the incredible Marvel blockbuster Black Panther. She has made history once again when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored her with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! She is the second costume designer, and the first Black costumer designer, to receive this honor since its inception in 1960. The talented costume designer has an innate ability to capture the power of visual communication allowing her to powerfully share narratives of culture, race and politics.

Ruth Carter was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in a single-parent home, as the youngest of eight children. She moved to Los Angeles in 1986 and was hired by Spike Lee to work on his second film School Daze in 1988. She has since worked with Lee on 14 of his films and has designed for several other directors including Ryan Coogler, Ava Duvernay, Lee Daniels, John Singleton, and Steven Spielberg. Carter has created costumes for many generation defining characters in movies like Black Panther, Malcolm X, Selma, The Butler, B*A*P*S and most recently Coming 2 America. For over 40 years she has been working in the entertainment industry and has undoubtedly left her footprint on Hollywood.

Carter was recognized on February 25 via a virtual ceremony, which recognized her ability to “wow audiences and dazzle critics alike with costumes inspired by traditional African tribal wear merged with a contemporary look, delivering fashion and function, incorporating technology, and creating such authenticity ownership and empowerment for the characters and viewers cementing her as one of the preeminent voices and experts on Afrofuturism.” Carter spent six months extensively researching Africa’s ancient customs and traditions to magnificently bring African style to the world through the big screen. She incorporated inspiration from many different tribes across the continent, which was reflected in the variety of textures, patterns, and fabrics portrayed on-screen.

While Carter used the vibrant display of African fashion to bring the characters to life in superhero movie Black Panther, she made it clear in her Oscar acceptance speech, who her superhero is. “My career is built with passion to tell stories that allow us to know ourselves better. This is for my 97-year-old mother watching in Massachusetts. Mom, thank you for teaching me about people and their stories. You are the original superhero.”

Ruth E. Carter (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

During the star dedication ceremony, Carter was honored by guest speakers Oprah Winfrey and Eddie Murphy who worked with her on the highly anticipated upcoming movie Coming 2 America. “I’ve never had a wardrobe designer whose clothes actually influence how you play your character, how you walk, how you stand; she really is instrumental in bringing your characters to life,” Murphy said.

“Thank you for seeing the depth of culture, history, artistry, and welcoming my vision of Afrofuture into the lexicon of American filmmaking,” proclaimed honoree Ruth E. Carter in her touching speech during the star honoring ceremony. “Most of all, I dedicate this star to all the young and aspiring filmmakers. I drove to Hollywood 36 years ago…nothing was handed to me. Every moment, every sacrifice, every effort was hard work inspired by my passion. It’s my hope that anyone who sacrifices, who beats these streets of Hollywood, carrying their dreams in heavy garment bags full of costumes, desiring to be the best, like I did, that when you gaze upon my star feel my energy, feel the power of your own unique story to realize your dreams so you too can reach your star. Wakanda Forever.”

“The first thing I wanted to see when I moved to Los Angeles in 1986 was Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame,” she fondly remembered. “I think those stars are synonymous with Hollywood past and present.” Carter’s star will be secured in Hollywood history alongside Quincy Jones, Cicely Tyson, Diana Ross and Diahann Carroll.


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