We caught up with RUTH CARTER, the costume designer for the blockbuster film “THE BLACK PANTHER” at Disney Dreamers Academy, where she was one of the special guest speakers for the event. The Academy is geared to empower 100 high school students from all over the US, who were selected, and invited to Disney World headquarters in Orlando, Florida, to be a part of their career enhancing, yearly program.
Powerful Screen Images
Part of the magnificence of “The Black Panther” movie are the costumes that pop off the screen with a fierceness, seldom seen on the big movie screen. Ruth Carter’s gift of developing authenticity to the garments worn not only by the leading characters, but for the supporting players and a huge cast of extras alike are worthy of praise.
Ruth’s career path was not what she envisioned her career trajectory to be. Her mother was a counselor, so a young Ruth learned about people and helping them deal with their issues by watching her Mom work. Ruth attended Hampton University where she majored in theater. “I did not set out to be a costume designer, but I can read and understand a script, I understand the characters. Ultimately, I was groomed to be a storyteller at a very young age.”
Two Time Oscar Nominee
Ruth said she had no mentors or people to look up to, who inspired her to become a costume designer. There were not a lot of costume designers in her world. “I guess Spike Lee was as close to a mentor, because he taught me things like continuity, In costume, you have to have five pieces of the same outfit for `continuity.’ Ruth actually started out working for Spike on films like “Do the Right Thing,” “School Dayz” and “Malcolm X.” She was also costume designer for “B.A.P.S.” “Amistad,” “13,” “Roots,” and more recently, “Selma.” The two time Oscar nominee for “Best Costume Design,” Ruth has worked with Hollywood greats including; Stephen Speilberg, Keenan Wayans and Robert Townswnd to name a few.
The Black Panther has reached over the $1billion mark and still earning, yet Ruth maintains a very simple, down to earth persona.
“When I first got the job as costume designer for “The Black Panther” I was very scared, and, I said there must be something that I can bring to this. I’ve gone through the journey to create these costumes by putting all of myself in the creative process,” noted Ruth.
“For T-Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, I not only wanted him to be a Black Panther but an African King. I feel fantastic because I brought something special to the table.” Ruth talked about preparing for the project. “The job began with extensive research to preserve the authenticity of all the costumes. Ruth recalled, “I traveled to Africa. Now, you’re not going to Africa to see barefoot natives with bones in their noses. Africa, the continent is quite modern actually. My first part of the trip was to research and study the culture of the various tribes. We looked for authenticity and worked on a combination of tribes and cultures.”
Ruth also talked about Patience, Determination and Failure as key elements in her creative process. “My thing was confidence, that’s the thing that pulls you out of everything…..Half of my team left close to production, so I had to call friends and supporters for help. If somebody is not cheering you on, they don’t need to be on your team.” Ruth stressed the importance of having intellectual property of your work, and the fact that as a costume designer, she does not actually “sew” the garments together. “I don’t sew, I draw. As a costume designer, you have to present lots of drawings to the boardroom daily, You have to trust yourself. Life is about collaboration. I have five illustrators on my team – nineteen people on my staff that help me put my ideas to life.” Ruth stressed the importance of the art of filmmaking, noting that most people only see the glamor of what’s on the screen, projected by the cameras, but emphasized that behind the cameras, there is a team of professionals that really make it happen. “It’s all about behind the scenes. As a costume designer, and hundreds of other such jobs that do exist in the film industry, that should be considered by young people who may want to explore careers behind the scenes in this movie industry.”