Meet the Oscar winner for costumes who made Black Panther look fierce
We talk to Ruth E. Carter, a designer who makes your favorite superheroes look badass from head to toe.
Superhero blockbuster Black Panther has a lot to brag about. It’s delighted critics and fans, crossed the $1 billion mark at the box office and become the first movie based on a comic book to net an Oscar nod for best picture .
At Sunday’s Academy Awards, Black Panther led to two historic firsts for African-American women: Ruth E. Carter won an Oscar for best costume design, and Hannah Beachler won an Oscar for best production design. (Black Panther itself became the first Marvel movie to win an Oscar for costume design — and also picked up a third Oscar for best original score.)
Costume designer Ruth E. Carter at the premiere of Black Panther last year.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney
Those who’ve seen the movie and its Afrofuturistic-infused getups probably won’t be surprised by the costume win. The Dora Milaje special forces stomp around in warrior boots and intricately detailed red and gold leather tunics with matching gauntlets. Killmonger looks intimidating (and so buff) in camo pants topped by a fitted blue shirt and fierce armor. And T’Challa’s vast array of suits and dress shirts may all be black, but each has wonderfully distinct flourishes.
You can thank Carter for making Lupita Nyong’o, Chadwick Boseman and Danai Gurira look even sexier than usual by dressing them in sleek formal wear for a night out at a Busan casino. Carter’s been nominated for Oscars twice before, for her work in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992) and Steven Spielberg’s Amistad (1997).
Before heading to Wakanda, Carter consulted with frequent Marvel collaborator Judianna Makovsky and other designers who’d worked with the studio.
“They all said to me, ‘This is a little bit different than your normal superhero film,'” Carter says over the phone from New York. “Actually, I’m really glad I didn’t really know the language of the other superhero films when I worked on Black Panther, so that I could approach it from my own point of view and not be influenced by what I thought it should look like.”
Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda, and her Zulu-inspired Black Panther headdress.
Marvel Studios/Composite by Chelsea Shi/CNET
Black Panther may have given us Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda rocking a Zulu-inspired headdress as only she could do or a shirtless Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in a long black hooded cardigan. But period pieces are the films that typically rule costume design at the Oscars, followed by fantasy movies and adaptations of children’s books. You have to go all the way back to 1990 (Dick Tracy) to find a nominated title based on a comic book.
“The ones that get the awards are usually the ones [where] you’re creating everything, that the designer is really designing,” three-time Academy Award nominee and costume designer Makovsky says by telephone from LA. “Superhero films have not gotten a lot of attention or love in that respect. And I think it’s ridiculous because it’s where costume design is going. It’s technical. It’s craftsmanship. It takes a lot of artisans to make these, and I think [that’s] misunderstood.”
Costume Designer Judianna Makovsky on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Makovsky knows her superhero films. She’s worked closely with Marvel as costume designer on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming Avengers: Endgame.
When she started working at Marvel, Scarlett Johansson’s character Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, was wearing high heels. “By the time I finished, [female characters] are in combat boots,” she says. Before making sure the Avengers’ footwear was appropriate for saving the world, she designed garb for The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which earned her an Oscar nomination.