Ruth E. Carter made history: The costume designer behind the Black Panther films became the first Black woman to win two Oscars. Carter took home best costume design Sunday night at the 95th Academy Awards for the Marvel sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Carter also won in 2018 for Black Panther, which made her the first African American to win in the category.
In her acceptance speech, Carter thanked the film's director Ryan Coogler and asked if Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman could look after her mother, Mabel Carter, who she said died “this past week.” Boseman died in 2020 of cancer at 43.
“This is for my mother. She was 101,” Carter said. "This film prepared me for this moment. Chadwick, please take care of mom.”
Carter then paid tribute to her mother backstage. “I had a great relationship with her in her final years. The same relationship I always had with her. I was her ride-or-die. I was her road dog. I was her sidekick," she said. "I know she’s proud of me. I know that she wanted this for me as much as I wanted it for myself.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever grappled with the grief of losing Boseman, its superhero.
In her career, Carter has been behind-the-scenes in some of Hollywood’s biggest films. She’s received Oscar nominations for her work in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and Steven Spielberg’s Amistad and received praise for her period ensembles in other projects such as Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Ava DuVernay’s Selma and the reboot of ROOTS. She’s created costumes for Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy and even Jerry Seinfeld for the Seinfeld pilot.
Carter played an influential role as a lead costume designer in making Black Panther a cultural phenomenon as she infused the pride of the African diaspora into the character’s stylish and colourful garments to help bring Wakanda to life. She wanted to transform the presence of Queen Ramonda - played by Oscar nominee Angela Bassett — from a queen in the first film to being a ruler in the sequel.
"Angela always wanted to play a queen, so to amplify her, we added vibranium … we gave her the royal colour of purple, and adorned her in gold as she wore the crown at the UN,” Carter said. “When she sits on the throne, she’s in a grey one-shouldered dress. The exposed shoulder shows her strength — Angela, she got those guns, right?”
Carter said she was able to pull off the win against a “tough lineup.” She was up against designers from Elvis, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Babylon.
She got her start in 1988 on Lee’s School Daze, the director’s second film. They’ve since collaborated on more than 10 films, including Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever. She’s also worked with Robert Townsend on The Five Heartbeats and Keenen Ivory Wayans on I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.
“I pulled myself up from my bootstraps," Carter said. "I started in a single-parent household. I wanted to be a costume designer. I studied. I scraped. I struggled with adversity in an industry that sometimes didn’t look like me. And I endured.”
Through the Oscar-nominated Malcolm X, she reached new heights. That film, starring Denzel Washington, propelled her into the “Hollywood makeup,” offering her more opportunities to work with directors who had different points-of-views and scripts.
Carter's wish is that her historic win Sunday will offer more opportunities to women of color.
“I hope this opens the door for others … that they can win an Oscar, too,” Carter said.