Profile: Ruth E. Carter (1960-)

Ruth E. Carter is an American costume designer for film and television, with over 40 films to her credit, who has mastered the look of multiple periods and genres in envisioning the clothing and overall appearance of a character or performer. During her near 30-year film career, Carter has been nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for her work on Spike Lee’s biographical film Malcolm X (1992), Steven Spielberg’s historical drama film Amistad (1997), and her most recent work on Ryan Coogler’s Marvel superhero film Black Panther (2018), for which she won the award and became the first African-American to win an Academy Award in that category. That win was also the first Academy Award win for Marvel Studios.

Early life

Carter graduated from Hampton Institute, currently known as Hampton University, Virginia, in 1982 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree.

Career

Carter began her career working as an intern in her hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts and at the Santa Fe Opera. She moved to Los Angeles in 1986. While working at the Los Angeles Theater Center, Carter met director Spike Lee, who hired her for his second film, School Daze (1988). In addition to designing costumes for the films of Spike Lee, Carter has worked with legendary directors such as Steven Spielberg and John Singleton and has dressed actors from Denzel Washington to Josh Brolin, and actresses from Angela Bassett to Jane Fonda.

Carter is currently designing costumes for the American television drama series Being Mary Jane on BET Networks, created by Mara Brock Akil and starring Gabrielle Union.

Carter’s most recent work was on the Afrofuturist superhero Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Panther (2018), directed by Ryan Coogler. Her costumes were inspired by many traditional African garments, including those of the Maasai and Ndebele people. She traveled to southern Africa to draw aesthetic inspirations and received permission to incorporate traditional Lesotho designs into the film’s costumes.

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