How Ruth Carter, the costume designer behind Selma and Malcolm X, fashioned Black Panther
When she began conceptualizing costumes for Black Panther, Ruth Carter started with two texts. One, the eponymous Marvel comic books (the originals and the Ta-Nehisi Coates versions), centering on an African king named T’Challa and his quest to protect his technologically advanced nation of Wakanda. And two, the Wakandan “bible”: director Ryan Coogler and production designer Hannah Beachler’s creation, outlining the national and tribal origins of Wakanda’s citizens. From there, Carter’s research spun outwards. She sent shoppers to comb the African continent for everything from original Maasai and Zulu pieces to Ghanaian fabrics and handmade sandals. She examined couture collections in New York and clothing vendors in South Los Angeles.
Carter is known for costuming films that capture defining moments in African American history. She has clothed Malcolm X for Spike Lee and Martin Luther King Jr. for Ava DuVernay, the Selma marchers and the Amistad slaves. Black Panther is her first foray into the superhero genre. “Never before in Hollywood have we had a chance to show the continent intellectually — it had all been Africa, dirt floors,” Carter says. “We were trying to understand ancient African culture in a way that didn’t look ‘savage’ but looked glorious, kingly, warrior-like.” Here, Carter explains her process.