BOWIE, Md. — The Afrofuturistic characters and costumes of “Black Panther” were on center stage at Bowie State University last week as Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter discussed her work to a sold-out crowd on September 27. Carter is the first African American woman to design costumes for Marvel Studios.
Costumes seen in Black Panther’s land of Wakanda are only the latest of Carter’s creations. She has brought the African-American experience to life in films for years. Starting in the 1980’s with Amistad to the modern-day version of Alex Haley’s Roots, Carter’s work has made her one of the most sought-after costume designers in the film industry.
The audience was spellbound as Carter shared her journey from wanting to be a special education teacher while at Hampton University to finding a love of theatrical performance then blazing a trail where one didn’t exist – into costume design. Brittany Sauners, 23, is an elementary education major who came to the event said “Carter is genuine and inspirational.”
Arthur Perpall, III, 24, was also in the audience. Perpall, who is studying visual communication and digital media arts said “I want to hear from someone in the industry.” This is my first introduction to her work, he said.
Carter said sacrifice, focus and hard work contributed to her success and encouraged everyone to not let life’s barriers stand in the way of taking chances to achieve a goal.
Carter said after spending years working in theatre production and dance, she met a young film maker named Spike Lee and was hired as the costume designer for his second film “School Daze.” Carter collaborated with Lee on a dozen films earning an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design for Malcolm X in 1993. And an Emmy nomination for the reboot of Roots in 2016 which debuted on the History Channel, A&E and Lifetime.
In 1997 she received her first Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design for Steven Spielberg’s Amistad.
Carter’s work sets her apart because of her ability to develop rich story through costume and character. She uses historical aspects of culture to influence modern day fashion, “exploring our history in present costume” she said.
In addition to blockbuster Black Panther, Carter’s work can be seen in over forty films including House Party 2, The Butler, Selma, and Do the Right Thing.
Carter’s current work “Heroes & Sheroes: The Art & Influence of Ruth E. Carter in Black Cinema” showcases her most popular costumes. The exhibit is currently on display at the African American Museum and Culture Center in Washington, D.C., and the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.