BLACK VOICES

'Black Panther' Designer Becomes First Black Woman To Win Costume Design Oscar

Ruth E. Carter's creations exhibited the diversity across Africa.

This Oscar win will go down in the history books. 

Ruth Carter of “Black Panther” took home the Academy Award for best costume design. The accolade makes Carter, already a well-established figure in the business, the first black woman to win an Oscar in that category. 

Carter beat out Alexandra Byrne of “Mary Queen of Scots,” and Mary Zophres of “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” She also won over Sandy Powell, a three-time Oscar winner who was nominated for both “Mary Poppins Returns” and “The Favourite” this year. 

The designer thanked her mentor Spike Lee during her acceptance speech and spoke on how costume elevated the Black Panther superhero. 

“Marvel may have created the first black superhero, but through costume design, we turned him into an African king,” she said. 

“Black Panther” also made history when Hannah Beachler became the first African-American to be nominated ― and to win ― in the Production Design category.

While “Black Panther” marked Carter’s first Oscar win, she’s long cemented herself as a force in the industry with two previous nominations, designing for characters in culturally significant films on the black experience including “Selma,” “Love and Basketball,” and “Malcolm X.” She’s also known for her frequent collaborations with  Lee, working on 12 films with the director. 

She told CNN that the diverse Afrofuturist aesthetic reflected in Wakanda’s natives was meant to disrupt the idea that African culture is monolithic. 

“I thought this has got to be an important film, and it had to be something that was Afrofuturist. ... I would have to represent images of beauty, forms of beauty, from the African tribal traditions, so that African-Americans could understand it; so that (non-black) Americans could understand African-Americans better; so we could start erasing a homogenized version of Africa,” she said. 

To do so, she drew inspiration from across the continent. For instance, the 3D-printed crown worn by the Angela Bassett-depicted Queen Ramonda is a nod to the Zulu married woman’s hat, and the metal neck rings worn by Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, reference rings worn by Southern African tribe Ndebele, CNN reported.

Carter’s involvement in “Black Panther” ― a film lauded as a win for black representation in a white-dominated Hollywood ― is not so surprising given her aim to uplift those in her community. She told The Day that in her work with Lee and the director’s production company, 40 Acres and a Mule, her aim has been to “push the Afro future and African diaspora.”

“We considered ourselves positive role models in the film industry,” she told the outlet. “There were always internships at 40 Acres and a Mule where we were teaching younger people who didn’t have an inroad to the film industry, exposing so many people to the industry including myself. Because of that, I give back as much as I can.”

This story has been updated to note Hannah Beachler’s win.

CORRECTION: This article previously referred to Carter’s award for “Black Panther” as her first “nomination and win.” It is her first win, but her third nomination. 

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