Ruth E. Carter is the designer behind the costumes for Black Panther. Following her work on films like Love and Baskeball, Amistad, and over 40 others, Carter worked with director, Ryan Coogler, to bring Wakanda to life for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Carter’s goal for the film, according to CNN.com, was to bring images and forms of beauty “from the African tribal traditions so that African-Americans could understand it; so that (non-black) Americans could understand African-Americans better; so we could start erasing a homogenized version of Africa.”
The result was a combination of tradition and futuristic design for the movie’s characters.
The film’s female warriors are called the Dora Milaje and are led by Okoye. Played by Danai Gurira, this character wears metal rings around her neck, rings inspired by the Ndebele tribe of Southern Africa. Okoye also wears a type of tabard embroidered with intricate beading from all across Africa. As the leader of the warriors, the character wears a vibrant red fabric with black and gold accents. The other Dora Milaje wear a similar tabard but with silver accents.
Carter told Glamour.com, she felt the Dora Milaje costumes were beaded “I felt, in a ceremonial way.” Every one of the warriors has a particular piece with identifies the costume with the character. For Lupita, Nyong’o, who portrays Nakia, a spy and former Dora Milaje. Her tabard features an alligator, meant to represent her river tribe. These details are included on all of the different Dora Milaje costumes.
For Queen Ramonda, played by Angela Bassett, Carter designed a cream-colored gown with a specific print and a 3D-printed shoulder mantle. It was important for the queen to stand out among the others in her introductory scene. To help accomplish this, Carter gave the character a Zulu married woman’s hat as a crown. The hat/crown was also a 3D-printed piece. There was also a black version of the same hat with the same precise triangular pattern along its lower rim.
Zuri is a priest of Wakanda, played by Forest Whitaker. His costume is a long robe died the same purple as the heart-shaped herb. The vest portion of the robe is made from curled jersey fabric. Over this is placed a tabard, embroidered with shell and seed beads. The character stands out from the others through the use of the color and texture of the costume.
Although Shuri, brought to life by Letitia Wright, has many costumes throughout the film, one of the stand-outs is the strapless dress she wears in the lab. Carter decided to come away from the traditional lab coat and opt for the dress with a mesh overlay neckline. The mesh, itself, is more of a wavy pattern, making it look very different from any ordinary mesh. This also gives the feel of the fictional Wakanda while making the Black Panther’s younger sister stand out.
The film’s villain, Erik Killmonger, Carter designed a much more urban look for the anthropologist. The look consisted of a shearling jean jacket, Balmain military boots, and a drop-crotch pant. She even added some stylish eyeglasses, something the actor, Michael B. Jordan, has never worn before. This subdued look makes his latter look all the more ferocious.
For the Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, the costume was a combination of a silver missile suit and a thin, black top suit. To create some texture, Carter added a triangular print, meant to invoke a kind of “sacred geometry.” Different silver accents also added a different feeling to the suit. This texturing of the flat black added musculature without making the actor look too bulky or fake. The spiked neckline mirrors the one worn by T’Challa in the comics. It ties in well with the wrist gauntlets and the hip accents.
On February 24, 2019, Carter accepted the much-deserved Oscar for Best Costume Design for her work on Black Panther. She also made history as the first black woman to ever win the award for Best Costume Design.
Costuming Superhero Films: “Black Panther” (Wakanda)
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