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At the 2023 Oscars, Ruth E. Carter won her second statuette for her imaginative costume work on the futuristic Marvel film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. This marked Carter’s second Oscar win for best costume design.
She previously won an Oscar in 2019 for Marvel’s Black Panther, becoming the first-ever Black woman to take home the statuette for costume design. She now becomes the first Black woman to be a two-time winner in any category, and joins only four other Black winners to have two competitive Oscars (Denzel Washington, Willie D. Burton, Russell Williams II and Mahershala Ali).
She also becomes the first person to win a costume design Oscar for designing both an original film and its sequel.
At the start of her acceptance speech, Carter alluded to her prior win for Black Panther, telling the audience, “Nice to see you again.”
And she dedicated the moment to her late mother, Mabel Carter, who she said died within the last week. “This is for my mother. She was 101,” said the costume designer who also invoked the late Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, asking him to look after her mom.
Said Carter in her speech, “Thank you to the Academy for recognizing the superhero that is a Black woman. She endures. She loves. She overcomes. She is every woman in this film. She is my mother. This past week Mabel Carter became an ancestor. This film prepared me for this moment. Chadwick, please take care of mom. Ryan Coogler, Nate Moore, thank you both for your vision. Together, we are reshaping how culture is represented. The Marvel family, Kevin Feige, Victoria Alonso, Louis D’Esposito and their arsenal of genius, thank you. I share this with many dedicated artists whose hands and hearts helped manifest the costumes of Wakanda and Talokan.”
Backstage after winning, Carter said in the Oscars press room that she hopes her win aspiring young designers. “I pulled myself up from my bootstraps … So I feel that this one opens the door for other young costume designers that may not think that this industry is for them and hopefully they’ll see me and they’ll see my story and they will think they can win an Oscar too.”
And she talked further about her mother and the encouragement she gave her early on, “My mom passed away last week and I had a great relationship with her in her final years. … I was her ride or die, I was her road dog, I was her sidekick. She always wanted me to follow my dream, even after I graduated from college and I came back home to do an internship and I didn’t quite know where I’m wanting to step next. And I packed up my Volkswagen Rabbit and my mother said, ‘You don’t want to stay here, you can just go.’ So I know she’s proud of me, I know that she wanted this for me as much as I wanted it for myself.”
Carter was previously Oscar-nominated for 1992’s Malcolm X and 1997’s Amistad. She previously won for best costume design for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever at the Black Reel Awards, the Critics Choice Awards and the NAACP Image Awards.
Many awards analysts had predicted that Catherine Martin would win the costume design category for Elvis, while Babylon’s Mary Zophres, Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Shirley Kurata, and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris’ Jenny Beavan were also nominated for their costume work in 2022. (Both Martin and Kurata won awards for best costume design on Feb. 27 at the Costume Designers Guild Awards.)
For Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Carter not only revisited the world of Wakanda and its Afrofuturist looks, but also created Mayan-inspired costumes for the newly revealed underwater world of Talokan, ruled by Namor.
“Similar to Afro-future for Wakanda, it’s like Latino-future,” she told THR last year. “It was exciting. I kept thinking, ‘Oh, they’re going to love this; they’re going to celebrate this.’”
For Wakanda Forever, Carter — who graduated from Hampton University with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2021 — designed more than 2,100 costumes and faced her biggest challenge in creating looks that would survive and read well underwater.
“There were so many aspects to being in water that worked against us,” she told THR. “We made a headdress for Namor with organic materials and feathers. He went underwater and everyone loved the way it looked and floated. But when it came out, it was unusable, because chemicals in the water bleached out the color. So we were constantly learning how to fix our dyes so they didn’t fade. And learning how to make things out of silicone that look real. We had to weight and tether the fabrics; every costume was different.”
Carter’s next project is creating the costumes for Marvel’s new Blade film.
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