Ruth E. Carter interview: ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ costume designer
When costume designer Ruth E. Carter started work on “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” – the sequel to 2018’s “Black Panther,” a culture-defining blockbuster that won Carter her long-awaited first Oscar – she didn’t have a return trip to the Academy Awards on her mind.
“You never go about any of these projects thinking about winning awards – but especially not a sequel,” Carter tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview. But much like the original “Black Panther” film, “Wakanda Forever” found its way to multiple Oscar nominations, including another one for Carter in Best Costume Design.
“This was honoring our friend, Chadwick [Boseman],” Carter says of the film, citing the late star who died in August 2020 just before production was set to begin. “There were so many layers to our intention on this film and that the fans actually loved the film so much, that was the real prize. It was thrilling to hear all the commentary from the moment the trailer dropped. So the moment that I heard that I had been nominated, I felt like all of those fans who were enthusiastic about ‘Wakanda Forever’ and had expressed love for the costumes really got their day, and I got mine too.”
Set in the aftermath of “Black Panther” as well as the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” “Wakanda Forever” finds the title nation reeling after the offscreen death of T’Challa (Boseman) and grappling with a new threat from the undersea world of Talokan where Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) rules. Directed by Ryan Coogler, an Oscar nominee for co-writing the original song “Lift Me Up” sung by Rihanna, “Wakanda Forever” puts those closest to T’Challa center stage – with his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), taking on the mantel of Black Panther, and his mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), sitting on the throne.
For Carter and Bassett, “Wakanda Forever” marked yet another collaboration. They first worked together on Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” and have done five total projects together, including “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” which netted Bassett her first Oscar nomination. Like Carter, Bassett is a nominee this year for “Wakanda Forever” and has already won Best Supporting Actress honors from the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards.
“We are like family, I’ve had fittings with her at my house,” Carter says of her long relationship with Bassett. “We are just very comfortable with each other. And I’m really thankful for that relationship because I know who’s walking in, I have seen her prepare for so many different characters. Every time I work with her, I learned a little bit more about what she’s going to bring in and how I can communicate with her as far as telling the story of her character. She looks in the mirror, she gives herself the once over, she’s trying to actually think about how she’s going to play the role as she’s adorned in the costumes and that really does help me to understand how she’s going to stand or how she’s going to move or walk. And then we look at each other and have a laugh, you know? So, you know, we don’t take each other so seriously.”
For “Wakanda Forever,” Queen Ramonda is in a much different place following the death of her son and her country’s king.
“She has taken the seat at the throne. And so we wanted to give her the power from the very start visually and Ryan saw one of the sketches for her looks and he chose what we see in the United Nations to be her entry,” Carter says of Bassett’s first sequence, where Queen Ramonda dresses down world leaders for trying to steal Wakanda’s vibranium resources. “The first film, where we recognized her right away as the Queen. In the second film, we’ve recognized her right away as the ruler as she enters and she’s adorned in the purple in the gold,” Carter adds.
Another big design challenge for Carter was in recrafting the Black Panther costume for Shuri. Carter says she and her team were “careful” in making the new suit, with particular attention paid to the character herself. “We didn’t want to exaggerate or make it look as though it wasn’t Shuri,” she says. “So we were very careful with the muscle sculpt that where we added the dynamic muscles, that it made sense that it didn’t make her shoulders too broad, or anything that would seem cartoonish or unrealistic. And the silver and gold elements on the costume were shifted also to create a very attractive silhouette.”
Shuri is conflicted throughout “Wakanda Forever,” torn between empathy and revenge in during her mourning. Carter says the suit also tried to reflect that dichotomy, especially since Killmonger, the first film’s antagonist played by Michael B. Jordan, plays a key role in Shuri accepting her place as Black Panther.
“She has lost so much in this story… I think that this costume allows us to explore both sides,” Carter says. “Killmonger’s suit was adorned with gold and T’Challa’s suit was simply vibranium silver. So she has both. And I think that tells a larger story for her.”
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is streaming now on Disney+.