'Black Panther' Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter on Her "Affirming" Career Nod

Ruth E. Carter -Getty-H 2019
Jesse Grant/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter

The Oscar nominee, who will be honored at Tuesday's Costume Designers Guild awards ceremony, also opens up about collaborating with Spike Lee and the advice he gave her 25 years ago while working on 'Malcolm X.'

Ruth E. Carter scored her first costume design Oscar nomination in 1993 for Spike Lee's Malcolm X. His advice to her at the start of the project: "Don't think about an Oscar, just do a good job," she says. Twenty-five years later, Carter joined Lee and Amy Adams onstage as the first three nominees called for the 2019 Academy Awards class photo at the Feb. 4 luncheon — her third nom, for Black Panther, and his first as director for BlacKkKlansman. "I'm so proud to stand next to him," Carter says. "I just felt like we were having another life milestone, history-making moment."

She's also poised for another accolade this awards season: the career achievement award from the Costume Designers Guild on Feb. 19. "Some of your peers get awards all the time or are at the top of the heap, and you're trying to climb your way up. You wonder what they think of you and your films. You wonder if they've been watching," Carter says. "So that's, to me, the affirming award that says 'We love you.'"

But for her, the best recognition she could receive is from the kids who proudly sported Black Panther costumes last Halloween. She says America has been living with Superman, Batman and Spiderman for a long time, which "ignored" the color of heroes. "When we designed a superhero that was a black man and a kingdom that was in Africa, it took those children to a place where they could claim and they could fly. And it's the best honor anybody could ever be bestowed," Carter says. "They knew the spirit and they all secretly hoped some of the Black Panther power would be bestowed on them just by wearing the clothes. … They were so ready for it. We knew they were ready for it. And we gave it to them." She added that catering to Marvel fans has raised the bar for her work: "I was working for Marvel, I was like 'Oh my God, I've got fans to answer to.'"

And though she hasn't heard about a Black Panther sequel ("No word from anybody"), Carter has her next mission carved out. She's reuniting with Lee in Thailand for "a very special project. Once again [Lee] has an amazing script and amazing art piece … and it's exciting because we're here together at the Oscars and now we're going to move on to there and get a movie done."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.