Ruth E. Carter: The Costuming Master (INTERVIEW-Part 2)
In late 2017 we interviewed Ruth E. Carter, speaking on her legacy and her body of work as she costumed over 50 films and has contributed to the rich history of black cinema. You can read Part 1 right here on Fanbros.com. Ruth E. Carter is responsible for the fashions in everything from Do The Right Thing, to School Daze, The Butler, Selma, and has dressed everyone from Angela Bassett to Josh Brolin. Here’s what she had to say in part two of this exploratory interview:
Black Panther seems like a big departure from most of the work you’ve done. How did that come about? Did Coogler and Marvel reach out to you?
I heard I had an interview to do an it was pretty exciting but I didn’t know anything about superhero films. Ryan Coogler and Nate Moore were the ones that interviewed me. When I found out what it was I was amazed at the learning curve. Some of the illustrators that I knew who had worked with marvel gave me a quick crash course, but the research was very similar. I’m very experienced when it comes to researching for a film, and the Black Panther has an African element. So I started looking at ancient African tribes and put together an interactive portfolio. They didn’t give me a script so I put together what Wakanda was to me. I was a bit nervous when talking to Ryan, but he just wanted to sit back and have a conversation. He told me that when he was a young boy that his dad took him to see Malcolm X. He was humbled that I took the time to meet with him. We had a very relaxing conversation and it turned out that we shared some of the same ideas.
I did not know whether I would get the job or not when I left, but I had a good feeling. When I left I said, “Ok guys, let me know.” I didn’t hear anything until a month and a half later while I was working on Marshall. We began shooting and Chadwick was waiting in his trailer. I got a call from my agent who said “I have never experienced Marvel making a decision this quick. They want you for Black Panther.” I was excited but I had the first day of Marshall right in front of me, and the Black Panther was Marshall. I thought to myself “Don’t tell Chadwick that you’ll be working on the film.” I wanted Chadwick and I to have a good experience with Marshall before I brought in this other mindset.
Well we all think you nailed it, so thank you. You went into this meeting blind; so how did you decide on those very distinct looks? Wakanda is home to many distinct tribes with very different looks. How did you go about creating the most stylized Marvel film?
Hannah Bleacher is the production designer and provided a lot of help when it came to deciding on the look She sat down with Ryan and they did a bible. And the bible showed you Wakanda and how the territories of Wakanda were set up. I looked at Wakanda like New York City. THere was an upper west side, lower east side, an NYU area, a medical area, Columbia University, a business district, and a midtown. In the bible it talked about the ancient tribes like M’Baku’s people who are from the outskirts of Wakanda. It’s cold and they live in a mountainous area. Our bible talked about what great architects they were, and about their sculptures and the wood they used. They crafted things like amazing tree mansions and armor. That led me to find a tribe in Africa with similar attributes. My research led me to the Dogon who are known for their architecture. They also have a ritual every year where they wear these grass skirts and incredible headpieces carved out of wood.
Ryan was very specific about things regarding M’Baku and he did not want the ape element. But because they live in the mountains, we did incorporate fur into their armor. The armor is ornately carved and a lot of hand work was involved in every costume. For the Dora I used the Maasai tribe and their color palette. Some of this was in the Wakandan bible but once I figured out what they were going for, I took it a step further.
How does post production affect the design process?
The Black Panther costume has some surprise elements I can’t reveal at this time. When designing for Marvel, they give you a base and you go from there. The base has the references they’ll use for post production. You can’t waiver from the base. It’s up to me to decide if I’m going to put an okavango patterns and textures all over the suit because it will keep in line with the rest of the film. I used a book on African prints where I found the okavango and other patterns. This way I do not deviate from their base but enhance the overall costume. They worked on the base while I’m working on the fabric for the costume. We go through several meetings where I show them physical examples about how things are going to look, which includes fitting photos and other things that allow them to stop me if I’m going to do anything that interferes with visual effects.
Based on what we’ve seen, don’t be shocked to see this hard work recognized around this time next year. Black Panther tickets went on sale Monday. Grab them now because they’re currently outselling Captain America: Civil War.