About Ruth E Carter
“I will have to rethink ever dressing a young African-American man in a hoodie in a film ever again.” —Ruth Carter, after hearing about the shooting death of Trayvon Benjamin Martin
Ruth E Carter’s journey as a Costume Designer— from her roots as a teenage Costume Design major at Hampton University, to teaching herself how to draw costume imagery, to costume designing MALCOM X for director Spike Lee (1993), AMISTAD for director Steven Spielberg (1998), SELMA for director Ava DuVerney (2014), ROOTS for producer Will Packer (2016) and billion-dollar box office hauler BLACK PANTHER for director Ryan Coogler (2018) —was a journey propelled by her most coveted resource… her remarkable imagination. Add to this her penchant for extensive and nerdishly meticulous research; and what results is an unparalleled sense of creative expression, emotion and the refined conveyance of character through costume design.
Ruth was hurt to her core by the senseless death of a 17yr old African-American child— who had once saved his father’s life by pulling his body from a fire and who someday wanted to become an aviator. But whose life was taken in part certainly because he was perceived as nefarious and suspicious for wearing a hooded sweatshirt on the night he died. Somehow when worn by African-American actors cast in roles as criminals, the hoodie seems to embellish the bias-born belief in Black male criminality. The “hoodie” is emblematic of certain assumptions in this country certainly. An A-list Hollywood Costume Designer would not only be well aware of what those assumptions are; but would be tasked with fueling them viscerally in an audience’s mind through costume designing choices they assign to a cast.
For her part, Emmy nominated and two-time Academy Award nominated Costume Designer RUTH E CARTER, subsequently took a stand to scrutinize her own decisions about when or if ever to dress any young Black male actor in a hoodie for a film or television project. To be sure, the story of her costume design decisions still speak to the scripts and storylines she is hired to create. But from then on, she has had her limits and expresses them by not enabling the damaging perceptions of the Black community to be perpetuated through her costume design career. She simply will not do it.
With over three decades in the industry and over forty films to her credit, Carter’s extensive repertoire embodies a range of work with once-young/no-name directors and A-list colleagues alike —applying her imagination, passion, focus and offering her respect to all equally. It’s simply how she was raised.
But Carter’s work with director Spike Lee on over ten films— beginning with SCHOOL DAZE (1988) and DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) —is not what’s lauded back at her childhood home in Springfield Massachusetts though. Nor is the eight-decades worth of period costume designing she did for Lee Daniels’ THE BUTLER (2013) or the attention to detail she gave to Reginald Hudlin’s MARSHALL (2017). While Carter’s ninety-seven year old mother (who still lives in the same home Carter and her seven siblings were raised in) deeply respects her daughter and her daughter’s success, it’s Carter’s commitment to her community that is adored. It’s also what set Carter up for success with her work on Coogler’s BLACK PANTHER. About this, Carter muses that she finally got the opportunity to:
“…imagine a place that didn’t get colonized by the Dutch or the British. So what would that be like? How would their culture stay intact, and what would it look like? It was inspiring for me to know that I could do it.”
—Ruth Carter, on costume designing BLACK PANTHER, Forbes Magazine (January 31, 2018)
Just as it was inspiring for Carter’s mother to see her daughter do exactly that.