The night before the “Black Panther” world premiere, director Ryan Coogler paid costume designer Ruth E. Carter a visit to get a scarf to wear to the event.
“I was a little nervous about dressing like the character, but it felt right. But it was helpful to be able to call a design legend to say, what do you think about this?” Coogler says. “I hear, ‘Yeah, come on over’ — you gotta take her up on it.”
Coogler says he grew up watching the films Carter worked on, from 1992’s “Malcolm X,” directed by Spike Lee, to 1997’s “Amistad,” directed by Steven Spielberg. She was nominated for an Academy Award for best costume design for both. More recently, she worked on “Selma,” the 2014 film helmed by Coogler’s friend, Ava DuVernay.
For “Black Panther,” Carter says she went back to the comic books and began exploring the links between the story and Africa. For the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s all-female special forces, they used beadwork from many tribal areas of Africa. She also says Coogler wanted the armor to feel like jewelry, so for instance, the female warriors’ neck rings were inspired by the Ndebele tribe from South Africa, who wear them as part of their traditional attire.
“It was so different, and that’s what the aim was, not to have them in heels, to have them flat on the ground. They had split-toe boots,” Carter says. “Even those who were Dora, they kept asking for something in the boot to give them a little lift. We just made it all uniform, and I think it was better for them for stuntwork.”