You may not be immediately familiar with her name, but you’ve seen her work everywhere on screen from film to TV for the last 30 years.
After graduating from Hampton University Ruth E. Carter, began her design career working with Spike Lee on his feature film debut School Daze (1988). Her designs epitomized black 80s fashion and helped bring the black college experience to life on the big screen. Carter’s resume is impeccable. She and Lee would go on to work on 8 more films including the critically acclaimed Do The Right Thing (1989), Mo’ Betta Blues (1990) and Malcolm X (1992) which earned Carter an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design. She has also shown her talents on television designing for the 2016 reboot of the mini-series Roots and as head designer on BET's Being Mary Jane since 2013.
It's hard to pinpoint her most notable work, but with this year’s release of Black Panther being the biggest debut in Marvel studio’s history, it’s safe to say she has solidified her place in the pages of Hollywood history. From the intricate detailing in the armor of the Dora Milaje, the king’s all-female bodyguard unit, to capturing the high tech ferocity of King T'Challa's signature panther suit, Carter’s designing eye brings the world of Wakanda to life. But Carter isn’t new to this, not by a long shot. The legendary costumer has outfitted established stars and newcomers alike in over 40 films and received numerous awards and accolades for her work.
In a recent interview with the website Shadow And Act, Carter describes how fashion can be an agent for
change and how she invokes that through her designs. “We have an anarchy to our garb, especially when it comes to organizing,” Carter says of black fashion. “It’s not apples for apples, but there is a fashion — people don’t think it's fashion though, it's more so, ‘how do we unite?' And we unite through a commonality.” She used this same approach when dreaming up the varying costume styles of the Wakandan people, giving them all distinct personalities based on their tribe but uniting them through a shared culture. Notably, Carter says she drew inspiration from Afropunk and Afrofuturistic styles to create a beautiful mix of modern trends and traditional costuming.
Carter’s next feature film will be the biopic Marshall dropping this summer. The film chronicles the life of Thurgood Marshall the first black Supreme Court Justice and reunites Carter with director Reginald Hudlin whom she worked with on The Great White Hype (1996) and Chadwick Boseman portraying Thurgood Marshall.