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‘Black Panther’ Costume Designer Breaks Down Her Afro-futuristic Creations

Want to know how to design outfits for an African King, Queen and warriors? Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer for “Black Panther,” can tell you that it starts with a Zulu hat and a 3-D printer.

In her 30 years in film, 57-year-old Carter has made her career putting images of African-American history and contemporary culture onscreen, from Spike Lee’s canon to “Selma” and the recent remake of “Roots.” For the Marvel blockbuster “Black Panther,” she got to envision a futuristic African alternate reality — made up of diverse tribes and untouched by colonizers.

“I really wanted this movie,” Carter said. She didn’t know much about the Marvel universe when she met with the director and co-writer, Ryan Coogler, but she liked the comic books’ portrayal.

Pictured: Ryan Coogler, Director and Co-writer of “Black Panther”


To imagine the fictional African nation of Wakanda, without the influence of the Dutch, the British and other colonizers, Carter borrowed from indigenous people across the continent. During six months of preproduction, she had shoppers scouring the globe for authentic African designs, like the traditional stacked neck rings worn by the Ndebele women of South Africa.

Textiles were sourced to Ghana, but many African fabrics are now printed in Holland; Carter rejected those. “I wanted to create the fabrics, and I wanted them to feel very superhero-like,” she said.

There was a strict color palette, drafted by Coogler: Chadwick Boseman, who plays T’Challa, the Wakanda royal who is also the Black Panther, wears black; Danai Gurira, as the warrior Okoye, and her band of female fighters, the Dora Milaje, are in vibrant red; and Lupita Nyong’o, as the spy Nakia, part of the river tribe, is in shades of green. (Black, red and green are also the colors of the Pan-African flag.)

Carter said this was not the most complex production she’d ever done; “Malcolm X,” set across several eras, was even more involved. But the chance to explore Afro-futurism with “Black Panther” was meaningful to her. “It is the reason why we have a sense of pride as African-Americans,” she said.

Actor Gabrielle Union made Carter her Woman-Crush-Wednesday (#WCW) on Twitter; celebrating Carter’s creative eye and outstanding costume designing for Black Panther:

Ryan Meinerding at Marvel designs all of its superhero suits, but Carter put her stamp on the three versions made for this movie, adding a raised-triangle motif. “It has a little bit of a sheen to it,” she said. She calls the triangle “the sacred geometry of Africa, and it makes him not only a superhero, but a king, an African king.”

The Black Panther first appeared onscreen in “Captain America: Civil War” in 2016, when Boseman originally wore the designed suit and helmet.

For the headgear worn by T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett), Carter and her team found a traditional Zulu married woman’s hat, complete with the ocher that makes it red, and like a hairy, furry, texture on it. The hat was the model for Bassett’s crown, which was 3-D-printed, with help from the designer Julia Körner, who specializes in wearable plastics. The rounded shoulder mantle, with a bit of African lace, was also 3-D printed. It took six months, Carter said, to get the design right.

As a leader of a border tribe, W’Kabi, played by Daniel Kaluuya, is wrapped in the Wakandan version of a Lesotho blanket. “The Lesotho do these wonderful blankets with these amazing prints on them that represent their king, they represent harvest,” Carter said.

The costuming for Nakia, played by Nyong’o, made the broadest leaps, Carter said. The spy’s river tribe was based partly on the Suri of Ethiopia, so her traditional look was made of shells, beads and leaves.

In their red and gold outfits, these spear-fighting women are the elite warriors of Wakanda. The front of the costume is beaded “in the same tradition that you see throughout Africa — the Turkana, the Maasai,” Carter said.

For Coogler, blue “represented the police and authority.” She dressed Michael B. Jordan, as Black Panther’s rival, Erik Killmonger, in it.

“She has everything you want in a collaborator,” Coogler said. “She’s experienced but still youthful and energetic, still curious and open to trying new things.”


Blogged by Deja Miller



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