You must have seen Black Panther by now. And aside from the revolutionary narrative of the film, and the positive representation of dark-skinned cast members, Black Panther gave us costumes like we’ve never seen them before in a Marvel film. Especially the women’s costumes which weren’t designed for the male gaze, but rather to represent the perfect marriage of African culture with futurism.
Anyone with a keen eye for sartorial architecture must have left the theatre itching to know who created these costumes. So itch no more, because we got to hear from the horses’s mouth every single detail and creative thought process that went into the costumes. Ruth E. Carter is a world-renowned Hollywood costume designer, and her latest works of art can be seen in the fictional Afrofuturistic state of Wakanda.
Carter has 40 film credits under her belt, including Malcolm X, Love & Basketball, Against the Ropes, The Butler, and Selma. This award-winning costume designer has also worked on Roots and Being Mary Jane (a series with an immensely covetable wardrobe). And now Ruth Carter has added Marvel’s Black Panther to her already impressive filmography. We picked her brain and asked her Wakanda hard work goes into creating fashion for a technologically advanced nation:
1. What was your first reaction to the news that you’d be costume designer for Marvel’s Black Panther?
I was unsure what I would be doing exactly. I mean exactly what. Then the producers said they were prepared to support the utmost creative outreach. I then realised that I was given a very special gift.
2. Your filmography includes movies such as Amistad, Love & Basketball, Selma, Malcolm X, The Butler, and TV hits Being Mary Jane and Roots – how did you approach the costume design for Black Panther considering it’s set in a futuristic time and place which does not technically exist?
Much of the process of costume design is constant on any production. Meaning you need to acquaint yourself with the subject matter, do detailed research, and understand what the colours of the world look like. What was different than most of my films was the floor was open, creatively. What you conceive you can create and you can make come alive.
3. Please talk us through the research process (travel, reading, etc) that enabled you to draw inspiration from existing African nations and their cultural dress?
I started with books and online research. I would become obsessed with the details and dig deeper. I also looked at real artefacts to get closer to the textures and colours.
4. What were some of the biggest concerns you had with regards to balancing the cultural and technological/futuristic aspect of the film?
My biggest concern was that I didn’t want to date the film with bulky, wearable tech.
5. What other references did you draw on?
I drew on actual people who knew the culture. For example, the hanbok in the casino scene was created in South Korea by a hanbok designer who instructed us on the details.
Anyone who’s seen Black Panther can completely attest to the fact that intense research was done in order to bring different African cultures to life in an imagined, futurist African kingdom. A true testament of how innovative Ruth Carter’s mind is.