Ruth E. Carter poised for Oscar win Sunday

Free Press wire reports | 2/22/2019, 6 a.m.
It’s a big week for Ruth E. Carter, who on Sunday could become the first African-American to win an Academy ...
Ruth E. Carter


It’s a big week for Ruth E. Carter, who on Sunday could become the first African-American to win an Academy Award for costume design for her Afro-futuristic wardrobes in “Black Panther.”

Already this week, Ms. Carter has received a career achievement award Tuesday night at the 21st annual Costume Designers Guild Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif.

She talked about her early years with Spike Lee and her favorite “Black Panther” costumes during a recent interview with the Associated Press.

Where it all started

Ms. Carter, 58, still possesses her sketches from her college days at Hampton University and during an internship with the Santa Fe Opera.

She spent countless hours drawing all sorts of characters, honing her craft in her dorm room and small studio in Los Angeles a few years after college. One sketch she keeps handy is of a unisex dancer sporting red and gray tights.

“I was so excited about the idea of costume design and how it intersects with art. I really wanted to draw the characters out. I spent a lot of time in my dorm room or once I came out to L.A. in my semi-studio at my drafting table,” said Ms. Carter, who graduated from Hampton in 1982.

In her early days, Ms. Carter delved into a script and drew characters before knowing the person who would play the role. She did that in her first-ever film, Spike Lee’s “School Daze.”

“My process at the beginning was to go head on into the script and draw out the characters and make them funny,” said Ms. Carter, speaking with sketches from a cross-section of her lifetime work laid out on a table.

Ms. Carter had numerous sketches including Chicken George from the television miniseries “Roots,” a zoot suit drawing of Malcolm X and a boxing promoter named Sultan from the “The Great White Hype.”

“This is what I do, this is what I love,” she said.

Carter’s favorite costume

Ms. Carter has created costumes of memorable characters from Denzel Washington’s Malcolm X in the film “Malcolm X,” Spike Lee’s Mookie in “Do the Right Thing” and Forest Whitaker’s Cecil Gaines in “The Butler.”

But she said her favorite costumes came from “Black Panther,” particularly the Dora Milaje, a team of women elite warriors who protected the kingdom of Wakanda. She said the layered wardrobes of the all-female special forces were “impactful” and “powerful.”

“I was very inspired when we did these illustrations,” said Ms. Carter, who worked with six illustrators on the superhero Marvel film. She typically works with one.

“You know, it’s quite imaginative. Because we had to work in so many different ways and so fast, I’m really proud of these because we were able to create a look and a world in a short amount of time.”

The costumes have become so popular that people from different ethnicities — young and older — have worn Black Panther-themed costumes to theaters and at parties. Some people are even discussing dressing in Wakanda couture for an Oscar brunch.