Costume Designer Ruth Carter on ‘Black Panther’s’ Look and Influences

Two time Oscar nominee Ruth Carter is clearly excited to have worked on Black PantherCiting what she describes as the “weird times” we live in, she thinks “the world, in general, is in need of a superhero of another kind.”

To properly dress Wakanda, Carter looked backward to research fashion trends across the African continent. While some villagers and the Shamans wear more traditional garb, others walk around in modern clothing that is influenced by African garbs and color patterns. In order to bring that look to life, Carter looked at the Afro-Punk movement that is taking place today.

“Not only is it a fashion statement, it’s more like a political statement about self-expression and about, you know, being unapologetic about paying some attribute to your past and to your culture, but also giving it an anarchy.”

Shuri, King T’Challa’s younger sister, and Wakanda’s chief scientist, has a costume that bravely looks forward. Due to the fact that “she’s using fibers technologically within her clothes,” Carter look at things from an Afro-Futuristic perspective.

“I feel like I’m an Afro-Futurist in that way in that we want to represent things that are culutrally sound but also a new way of thinking, new, fresh ideas that are being brought to clothing and how it’s worn.”

The actual Black Panther suits were designed by Ryan Meinerding, the head of Marvel Visual Development, and then given over to Carter to tweak and perfect. Without interruption or delay, Carter said a superhero suit takes “eight months to make” due to how much work and adjusting go into each one.

One of the biggest changes to the Black Panther suit involved changing the helmet. Calling the Civil War version “bulky,” Carter revealed that Boseman had trouble breathing out of his nose in the original suit. To counter that, the team developed a new helmet where the eye sockets and nose area could pop out.

“In post, they put the silver part where the eyes are and they put the nose on, so that way if he had to really move and really breathe like people do, he could do that.”

In Carter’s opinion, Killmonger is more earthly than T’Challa. Equipped with a gold tooth and “ponytail,” the team exaggerated the bulk and brawn on his version of the suit. It was “very important to have somewhat of a different take” on the two costumes, and as a result, Killmonger’s has “a more exaggerated feel” while the Black Panther suit “has a little more finesse.”

The suits aren’t the only amazing costume in the movie though. The Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s group of elite warriors, are all adorned in uniforms. The red in their outfits and their tattoos were the only homages to the comics, otherwise, Carter had free-reign to develop the group’s armor. Citing her research into the Massai, Turkana and Ndebele tribes for the way they stack beads and wear rings on their necks and arms, Carter “wanted the armor to be jewelry like.”

“We wanted to cover their bodies and make their uniforms real militaristic and ready for battle so that they would have armor, but we wanted the look overall to harken back to Ancient African tribes.”

Similarly, Queen Ramonda, played by Angela Basset, wore a hat based on the “Zulu married women’s hat.” Those types of hats have been around for a while, but this was one 3-D printed in Belgium. Textile printing hasn’t caught on everywhere, but they “had the one huge printer hat allowed us to use the materials that were required to print this headpiece that was both flexible and wearable.”

“We thought the Queen would have technologically advanced costumes, but she would also have something that would pay homage to her culture.”

Even though Carter has worked on other big, successful projects like Selma and Marshall, she’s still giddy to be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“It feels like an honor because anytime you have a big company like this stand behind your ideas it’s a huge compliment. And not only do they stand behind your ideas they stand behind your ideas with a fat wallet!”

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