The Oscar nominations were announced this morning and I was THRILLED to see that Ruth E. Carter was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Costume Design category. (She just won a Critic’s Choice Award in the same category last week). For a year now, I have been saying that if Ruth Carter doesn’t win something for her work on Black Panther that I would stage a protest. Carter’s tenure in Hollywood spans over 30 years. She worked on everything from Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992) to Steven Spielberg’s Amistad(1997), Serenity (2005), and Ava Duvernay’s Selma (2015). So I was thrilled when I got a chance to talk to Carter about her work on the purple carpet as well as after the premiere. Read on to see what Carter had to say about the research that went into making Black Panther look as authentically African as possible.
How did you come up with the various looks for the different ethnic groups represented in Wakanda?
Ruth E. Carter: Actually, that was all Ryan (Coogler). When we met he had done a lot of research and knew that the different ethnic groups needed to be represented very visually. He knew he wanted the water tribe to be green — that’s Nakiya (Lupita Nyong’o) and her father’s region — and the Dora Milaje to be red, and the priests, like Forest’s character, to be in purple. Then it was just up to me to find the right purple.
That’s also very African, for color to be associated with different deities.
Exactly. And we wanted to express that.
I have to ask about the details. I noticed the adinkra symbol, which I believe means “cooperation,” stamped across W’Kabi’s (played by Daniel Kaluuya) blanket and other symbols in the movie. How did you come up with that, and who would wear what?
Ah! You caught that. Very good! Yes, there was a Ghanaian adinkra symbol on W’Kabi’s blanket, as well as on Shuri’s blouse when you first see her in the film. There are symbols everywhere, actually. T’challa also wears a different symbol in his throne room, Killmonger’s mask is a dogon piece, and N’kiya and her father of course has the most prominent traditional symbol with his lip plate.
Tell me more about those blankets, because they were magnificent, and also, it was fantastic how you were able to link them to technology.
Oh my God, the blankets. Well, those are actually patterned after the Basotho blankets worm by the Lesotho people of South Africa. It’s a mountainous region, and they wear…