The Daily Aztec

‘Black Panther’ costume designer comes to campus for presentation on film, race

Sierra Mahoney

Sierra Mahoney

by Sierra Mahoney, Contributor

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Award-winning costume designer, Ruth Carter, spoke with San Diego State University students about her struggles and success as a black woman in the film industry on Monday, Sept. 24 in Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.

Carter has worked on over 40 films, including “Malcolm X,” “Selma,” “Amistad” and, most recently, “Black Panther,” and she’s received two Academy Awards and an Emmy nomination throughout her career.

During her presentation, Carter described her work on “Black Panther,” and what inspired her to create the various costumes designs. She explained that the film was set in a fictional country in Africa called Wakanda.

Wakanda was created around the concept of Afrofuturism, which was what the directors imagined Africa and African tribes to look like in the future. Key elements included armour, bead work and vibrant colors.

“Knowing the made-up Wakanda and what it was all about was integral to the design work on ‘Black Panther,’” Carter said. “We connected to the tribes of Africa to create some of the symbolism and things we see in the uniforms.”

As a black woman in the film industry, Carter says she feels like she’s constantly proving herself.

“It wasn’t until ‘Black Panther’ (that)  I got a chance to stand on a stage like this and talk to you, although I have 40 films behind me,” she said.

However, these challenges have not deterred her from pursuing her dreams.

“I don’t look at things like they’re barriers in my way. I feel like they’re challenges and I have to keep going and I have to keep being creative,” Carter said of her positive outlook.

Her main job is to execute the costumes and make sure they are functional.

“The whole costume design is done by Marvel way before I even come onto the project, but it’s our responsibility to make the costume work,” Carter said.

She discusses problems she has faced regarding actors not being able to breathe or move easily in their costumes, and how she had to quickly alter them. A major issue she faced was creating Black Panther’s helmet. When Chadwick Bose-man first tried it on, it smashed his nose, made it difficult for him to lift his arms or breathe.

“We decided to take the front piece off of the nose for the suit that he wears in the film and we added a piece that would be removed so most of his martial arts were done without that suit,” Carter said.

Carter said she is always inspired by modern fashion in her work.

“Fashion in my industry in unavoidable, but we always take fashion and we do take it a step further,” Carter said. “Building character is part of what a costume design is.”

She cited an example of the River Tribe Elder played by Isaach de Bankolé, and said she had to work closely with the makeup designers to develop the character’s look with his signature lip plate.

She said a difficulty she faced in “Black Panther” was only having six Panther suits and remaking them within a time constraint.

“You never, ever have enough time,” Carter said. “Every project I have ever worked on has had its share of challenges based on not enough time.”

“You have to be confident, get your ideas out, and work,” Carter said when giving advice to students.

It wasn’t until the end of the production of “Black Panther” that Carter realized how big of a project she was a part of. She said she was too focused on her costumes beforehand, but once the film aired, she was able to notice the large impact she had made.

Students attending the presentation said they were impressed by Carter.

“It was not what I thought it would be,” social science sophomore Adam Arnold said. “It was a lot more interesting and insightful and I’m glad that I went.”

Kinesiology junior Sydney Cotton was also inspired by Carter’s work and was particularly interested in the technology Carter used to design her costumes.

“I thought it was amazing because now I want to integrate pre-physical therapy and kinesiology with film and costume design,” Cotton said.

Carter recently finished working on the upcoming film “Dolemite,” featuring Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore.

She said the“Black Panther” sequel will start pre-production in 2020.

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